Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity this motion gives me to salute International Women's Day. It is important for the House to mark this day and to recognize the significant progress that has been made in Canada over the years toward greater equality of women and men.
So, I am very grateful to have an opportunity to mark International Women's Day.
I can assure hon. members of my government's commitment to continued progress in the field of equality. That commitment is clear from our red book "Creating Opportunity". Whether we talk of women and health, or of streets that are safe for women, or of day care, the underlying principle is one of equality between women and men.
Basic to all progress is the prosperity of Canada, and pleased is the minister responsible for infrastructure to be implementing, in co-operation with other levels of government, a program that will put many Canadians to work. Directly and indirectly this program will contribute in the short term and through long lasting benefits, to the economic growth which will ensure the greater equality of men and women.
I want to talk today most especially about employment equity within the federal public service and particularly about employment equity and women.
In this context, I would like to pay tribute to a particular woman, namely my parliamentary secretary.
Members of the House will be aware Treasury Board has legislated responsibility for employment equity within the public service because of the persistence of my parliamentary secretary, the hon. member for Ottawa West. She was in very large measure responsible for ensuring that the Public Service Reform Act passed in December 1992 contained an amendment providing specifically for employment equity.
This amendment is important in its own right because it will advance employment equity throughout the public service. It has however a further importance. The Government of Canada has an obligation to serve, I would suggest, as an example in such matters of great significance. The amendment conveys a message to all Canadians, women and men, that equity in employment is crucial to the full economic and social development of Canada.
The law sets out four designated groups that have encountered employment barriers. These are women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and visible minorities. Women are a designated group in their own right, but they are about half of those other three groups as well.
If we discuss employment equity for aboriginal peoples we include aboriginal women. Progress for women as a whole must also be progress for any group that is disadvantaged.
The point of employment equity in the public service is to increase the representation of members of designated groups in those jobs in which they are currently represented to a lesser extent than their participation in the Canadian labour force.
It was a Liberal government that introduced one of the first programs designed to achieve this goal within the public service. The special measures program, as it is called, put in place in 1983-84 has contributed in a major way to increasing the number of women, and of men and women of the three other designated groups within the public service. The special measures program has continued over the years as a motor of the employment equity program.
Last December I had the honour to preside over a meeting of Treasury Board that approved the continuation of this program over the course of the next four fiscal years. In total almost $70 million will be allocated to the new special measures initiative program as it is now called.
I strongly believe that the renewed program will help to ensure employment equity within the public service.
Two particular programs have been of importance to women. First, the women's career counselling and referral bureau of the Public Service Commission counsels women who have the potential to rise into the executive ranks. It evaluates their management skills and refers women to appropriate competitions. The bureau cannot of course claim credit for all the progress that has been made, but there has been a real and notable increase of women in the executive group of the public service.
In 1983 women were 5 per cent of the executive level. By 1988 women's representation had more than doubled to 12.3 per cent. As of March 31, 1993 women were 17.6 per cent of the executive group, including a good number at the second highest level.
In addition there has been a steady increase in the number of women in what is called the feeder groups, that is standing in the wings and waiting to take over from the executives who will be retiring in the coming years. The public service is providing leadership in this area not just for the government but for the whole country.
The second aspect of the special measures programs designed especially for women is the OPTION program. The purpose of this program is to encourage the recruitment of women for what are called non-traditional occupations. A non-traditional occupation is one where the representation of women is under 30 per cent. Again there has been encouraging progress. In all these areas progress has been made but there is still is a lot more work that needs to be done.
The progress is not always measured by numbers alone. The program has particular importance because through strategic placements, the way is open for women to become employed in areas that traditionally were almost closed to them. Let me give an example of what can be done in the area of non-traditional occupations.
In 1992 the former Department of Energy, Mines and Resources received an employment equity award for its achievement on the recruitment of women in the science sector. Under its young scientists program that department has increased the number of women scientists by 63 since 1989.
Various departments also have bridging programs for women. Women occupy the vast majority of positions in the administrative support category. However it has not traditionally been an easy matter for a woman to move from the position of a secretary to a junior administrative officer and so on up the ladder. Bridging programs provide women with the training and the skills necessary so they can compete for more responsible positions.
It is essential that women be given access to the training which will help them secure the advancement they deserve.
The renewed special measures initiatives program will provide even greater encouragement to employment equity within the public service. Programs that were successful in the past such as the OPTION program are being continued. A new flexibility has been introduced so that individual departments can receive the assistance they require to carry out on their own individually tailored programs to assist women and members of all those other designated groups to achieve better representation within the public service.
Employment equity is all of these things but it is more as well. It is an attitude. It is a recognition that women and men are equal and that each of them can in her or his own way provide high quality service to the Canadian public as a member of the public service. It means that a man can easily take orders from his boss, a woman, that a woman has an absolute right not to be harassed
in any circumstances, that a secretary could be a man and that all women and men are treated with dignity.
We recognize that employment equity must be an integral part of human resource management. It is not something separate to be considered only after essential matters have been taken care of.
Managers are being trained to understand that Canada today is a diverse country. That is its strength and the public service must reflect that diversity if it is to serve the Canadian people intelligently and well.
For women there are other factors as well and legislation and policies are in place to provide for them. For example, pension provisions that discourage part time work and the taking of child rearing leave have been repealed.
Flexible work arrangements are in place in recognition of the fact that it is women who still carry the major burden of household responsibilities. Telework may be of substantial help to women whose situation makes it difficult for them to leave the house for extended periods, for example.
Job sharing may provide for many women an opportunity to participate in the public service that they otherwise would not be able to do, or elsewhere in the economy that is not available to them at this point.
Let me say that these are not concessions that are being made to women or to any other members of any of the designated groups in the employment equity program. Employment equity implies that barriers to the employment of any member of society have been dismantled and all can compete on an equal footing.
With employment equity we in the federal government still expect to recruit the best and the brightest, but we shall be ensuring that the candidate pool is as diverse and as rich as possible and reflects what this nation's composition is all about.
If some training is required to diversify and enrich the candidate pool, we will provide it where we can. That is the meaning of employment equity and of equality.
We will have other occasions in which to discuss the growing role and equality of women in Canadian society and within the public service. I want to assure the House today of my own personal commitment, a commitment that goes back through the years that I spent in municipal government, to the principles of both equity and equality for women. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to participate in this debate today.
Thus, I am very pleased to reiterate in the House my commitment to employment equity, and equality between women and men.