Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé for agreeing to share his time with me.
I am pleased to speak to the Bloc Québécois motion concerning post-secondary studies and research chairs, even though this is a jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.
As the critic for status of women, I am perfectly aware that this group is still under-represented and that more work needs to be done. However, the debate we would like to have is not about the concept of positive discrimination in general, but about the specific policy of the Canada research chairs program, and its requirements and practices concerning equity, diversity and inclusion. We are not against equity. We are not against diversity. We are not against inclusion. I am pleased to note that once again, Quebec is working to raise awareness of such matters.
Today I will be speaking about what is already being done in Quebec, I will come back to Ottawa's paternalistic approach, and I will conclude by speaking about the importance of being proactive, especially in the case of women, but also in the case of indigenous peoples, people with disabilities and minorities.
First, we must speak about what is already being done in Quebec.
The right way to promote equality, diversity and inclusion would instead be to apply a preferential hiring policy, meaning that for equally qualified candidates, preference would be given to certain people. That is what many Quebec universities have already done with respect to women, and it has worked well.
We are not directly opposed to all current, future or possible policies aimed at promoting equity, diversity and inclusion, especially since these exist in Quebec. We are starting a debate on the matter, a societal debate which has not yet taken place, but which is necessary and desirable.
I do want to say that in Quebec, there are also CEGEPs. Today, we are talking a lot about universities and research chairs, but we must not forget about CEGEPs.
There is no university in the riding of Shefford, but there is an excellent CEGEP in Granby. It may be training future researchers. We must not forget them in the post-secondary education continuum, whether it is for pre-university studies or technical courses. That is why I was delighted to present female science students with certificates to recognize their academic excellence as part of Hooked on School Days. I also talked with Yvan O'Connor, the director of the Granby CEGEP, who told me about his institution's projects and development and the problems related to foreign student visas.
If the federal government wants to contribute to education, it should work on matters under its jurisdiction. For example, it could provide adequate funding for science, which it is not doing at the moment.
We are opposed to a federal policy that is specific, ill-conceived and tainted by ideology. It creates paradoxical situations, anomalies or inequities. Moreover, it represents federal interference in an area under Quebec and provincial jurisdiction.
Section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867, expressly confers jurisdiction over education on the provinces. It is generally known and accepted that education is a Quebec matter. Quebec's universities belong to Quebeckers, and they are funded through taxes paid by Quebeckers.
In fact, it is a direct intrusion into provincial jurisdiction, because the influence of the Canada research chairs program goes beyond simply funding research. In fact, it acts as a professor hiring program. The federal government is dictating hiring conditions to universities. This is unacceptable. The program must be reviewed.
The federal government can use its spending power to finance research, but it cannot, in any way, use this approach to change the way Quebec's universities function. Yet, that is what is happening because of the excessive constraints imposed by the Canada research chairs program, particularly because of its unreasonable equity, diversity and inclusion requirements.
In addition, through the requirements it imposes on its research funding programs, the federal government is undermining the autonomy of universities. There is no excuse for the government dictating the conditions for hiring professors. If the government wishes to appropriate the ability to spend on education, it must do so with no strings attached.
It is unacceptable for the federal government to impose targets on Quebec universities under threat of sanctions. Quebec universities are perfectly free to develop programs to address diversity and inclusion without having the federal government dictate the terms and conditions under threat of having part of their funding withheld. Federally imposed requirements are unacceptable and illegitimate impediments to their independence.
It is possible to have a policy that fosters hiring from certain groups of equal qualifications. That is true and it is already being done for women in some Quebec university departments, for example. However, to apply an equal opportunities policy, you must have candidates who are available and interested.
The federal EDI policy on academic research funding is an ideological drift that creates absurd situations, and it must be abolished.
If we want the academic workforce to be more diverse and representative of the Canadian population, the solution is not to impose arbitrary quotas at the time of hiring, because the most important criteria should be the excellence of academic records and the value of scientific research projects.
The solution should be proactive instead, so that at the time of hiring, the pool of candidates is already more diverse and representative of the general population.
We are therefore being asked to collectively reflect on how we can find positive measures that will promote equal opportunities by stimulating interest in the arts, science and all spheres of society. In all cases, this will be a Quebec discussion, as education is at the heart of our social model.
The federal government's responsibility is to stop interfering in the management of Quebec universities and to improve the granting agencies' research grants for students. Yes, quotas create certain effects. They are unequal. To put it bluntly, the CRC program's current policy prevents some researchers from applying for research chair positions because they are not part of the designated groups. They are automatically excluded, despite their qualifications, even if that means some chairs remain vacant.
The unequal effects of the hiring targets for the four designated groups, namely women, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and visible minorities, came under public scrutiny when Laval University posted an ad for a job in the biology department in the winter of 2022. There was also an interesting column by Jean‑François Lisée, who denounced the incongruity of setting targets using the Canadian average.
With its Université du Québec network, Quebec made the choice to set up universities in the regions. That way, knowledge is not concentrated in the major centres, and this contributes to the social vitality of our regions. The current CRC policy requires our universities to recruit not only outside their walls, but well outside the regions in which they are established. The CRC policy directly hinders Quebec's vision. This is very important to me because it hurts our communities.
The federal government's position is rigid and ideologically driven. What is more, it constitutes interference in provincial jurisdictions. It is also an attack on the autonomy of universities. The federal government should review its research funding policy and allow the universities to determine their own hiring policies.
In Quebec, these criteria are evaluated based on the efforts made by the candidate to promote EDI, not on hiring quotas that exclude qualified researchers. We must not forget the important issue of university autonomy. These requirements prove that the federal policy does not respect the autonomy and independence of universities. The federal government's approach is extremely authoritarian and high-handed.
I would also add that, in the context of a labour shortage, it can take time to renew this pool, as requested by the federal government, given that many years of study are required for this process. That is the quandary faced by universities when they are required to fill positions with people from designated groups, except for women. Setting aside the issue of hiring quotas and the curious fact that women, indigenous people, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities are put in the same boat, this temporary excitement among elected officials and the media gives us an opportunity to again point out a fundamental fact about universities and their autonomy. We should remember that this is not about discussing the legitimacy of certain appointments from specific groups, because, in the case of women, that has been happening for more than 20 years. Instead, we are noting that the requirements imposed by the federal program are not being condemned by universities as an illegitimate and unacceptable restriction on their autonomy.
However, is this not a striking case of the denial of their management autonomy? In other words, these prejudices will be eliminated not by excluding certain people, but by improving selection processes. For example, universities could anonymize CVs or establish standard exams for a position. This is being discussed as a means of promoting the hiring of women.
These are points to ponder, because, beyond the debates on these exclusive criteria, I would like us to have a calm, healthy debate on proactive measures we can take. What barriers need to be broken down? Why are women still under-represented as entrepreneurs? Why are there still fewer women in politics? Why do we have to work harder to recruit female research chairs, especially in economics?
I was reading about that this summer in Hélène Périvier's excellent book about feminist economics, L'économie féministe. I highly recommend it. At the end of the day, I want little girls like my little Naomie to aspire to do the work they want to do, no matter what they choose.
Let us give them the choice. Let us give our universities the choice to operate the way they want.