March 7, 1979 (30th Parliament, 4th Session)


Marc Lalonde (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada; Minister responsible for the Status of Women)


Hon. Marc Lalonde (Minister of Justice):

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted that the opposition has decided to precede International Women's Day with a debate on women in employment. In spite of the strong words of the hon. member for Egmont (Mr. MacDonald), words that I suspect are not always shared by his colleagues, this new and quasi-annual commitment to women seems to be at variance with some of their other notions about economic policy.
I have said many times that women want to, need to and, most important, have a right to work. We recognized ten years ago that the government could and would make changes to legislation io improve the status of women.

Mr. Speaker, I can say that the present government has been committed for a long time to improving the status of women. I do not intend to review all its accomplishments in
[Mr. MacDonald (Egmont).J
this area. I need only remind the House that Canada was the first member of the United Nations to establish a Royal Commission on the Status of Women. Canada was among the first, if not the first, to create the function of minister responsible for the status of women, as well as an Advisory Council on the Status of women.
Moreover, we have translated our philosophy into action through major changes to our programs and through basic legislative amendments. Those are, of course, prerequisites to provide opportunities for women within the economy. I readily recognize that the measures already adopted might not be the final answer, but it is surely a step in the right direction.
Hon. members will remember the numerous measures that were taken since the early seventies, especially in 1971 following the report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. When that report was tabled, the government proceeded to amend many statutes in order to remove any form of discrimination in existing federal statutes. We did not stop there, since we acted not only at the legislative level but also at the executive level by promoting women from the economic point of view within the federal civil service and in areas coming under federal jurisdiction. I remind the previous speaker that only recently, in the past few years, in 1975, this government introduced in the House an omnibus bill on the status of women, a bill amending eleven federal statutes to ensure equal opportunities for women.
Similarly, in 1975 the federal government passed a law authorizing the payment of allowances to persons aged 60 to 65 whose spouses receive the old age pension or the guaranteed income supplement. Obviously those benefits went mostly to senior citizens of the female sex. In 1976 the Unemployment Insurance Act was amended to allow women to determine during which 15 weeks out of a 26-week period, they would receive the unemployment insurance maternity benefits. In 1977 a law was passed allowing credits accrued in the Canada Pension Plan and the Quebec Pension Plan to be shared upon dissolution of a marriage.
In 1977 the Bill of Rights was passed forbidding any discrimination based on sex and ensuring equal remuneration for equal work to every person working within federal jurisdiction. I must mention, in passing, that the federal parliament was the only government to pass such a law. No provincial legislature, at this time, has gone as far in that direction.
In 1978, very recently, a major amendment was passed to the Income Tax Act providing for a reimbursable tax credit to the mother or father of a single-parent family. That credit is based on the family income and can amount to as much as $200 a child. It is very clear that this measure will be of particular assistance to single-parent families and especially those whose head is a woman. The net benefits resulting from that act will clearly be advantageous to the underprivileged women in our society. Those are only a few of the measures which have been adopted. I have already indicated that other
March 7, 1979

legislation, for instance, dealing with sexual matters under the provisions of the Criminal Code will soon be introduced in the House, as well as other measures now being drafted.
What is important to remember is that we are acting not only in the legislative field but in the economic field, the social field and the cultural field. In these areas one cannot change history overnight or even in a decade. The demands on the economy and the expectations men and women have of their society reflect centuries of social and cultural attitudes which we are working to change.
Obviously, governments and political leaders have a major role to play in this respect but all other agencies in society also have a role to play. The federal government has a responsibility but the provinces also have a large responsibility which we should not ignore. As the House knows, the provinces have complete jurisdiction over education, health and social services, the administration of justice and a large proportion of the labour laws. In large measure they determine the availability of training through apprenticeship, particularly in the so-called non-traditional sectors.
As we developed during the years our programs for the improvement of the economic position of women, we were very surprised to find that most provincial governments and political leaders seemed unaware of their responsibility to women. We were even more surprised at the comment of the hon. member for St. John's East (Mr. McGrath) recently that such steps would, and I quote, "create a terrible conflict" between a woman's natural instinct to stay at home and her natural instinct to provide for her financial well-being and for her pension. Frankly, we did not realize that women had such a "strong instinct to stay at home", to use the words of the hon. member.
Let us consider just one area of economic importance to working parents-day care. Let me remind hon. members how day care is financed. In 1974, the Department of National Health and Welfare introduced new day care policy guidelines under the Canada Assistance Plan. Under this plan it is up to the provinces to decide on priorities. If day care spending decreases, it is because provinces like Ontario and Manitoba, good Conservative provinces, have decided it is not important. The federal government matches what the provinces put in. We cannot match dollars which have not been spent.
Still in the area of services, the federal government has led the way in funding important demonstration projects such as the new Women's Centre in Montreal, the Ottawa-Hull Rape Crisis Centre and the Vancouver women's health project. Countless projects for women were initiated through job creation projects.
But let me remind the opposition that many of our provincial colleagues do not like this very much. As a matter of fact, we received continuous representation and objections from the provinces when the federal government was financing services of this nature over an extended period. We have led the way
Women's Right to Work
and we can do so through demonstration projects, but only for a relatively short period-three years, for instance. We do not have the jurisdiction to engage in the financing and supervision of social services of a permanent nature. That is a responsibility of the provinces and I am sorry to say that in general the provinces have not been quick to reallocate their resources to accommodate women's needs. Nonetheless, we do intend to continue to encourage the provinces in all possible ways to see that these essential changes do occur.
The opposition says it is concerned about pension benefits available to women. So are we, and we have done something about it. We increased the GIS by $20 this January. We are the ones who introduced the spouse's allowance and in future we shall be bringing forward more amendments for the improvement of pensions.
Again, though, we can act only on one part of the pension legislation. The Canada Pension Plan, for instance, can only be amended with the consent of two-thirds of the provinces with two-thirds of the population, and the whole area of private pensions lies overwhelmingly under provincial jurisdiction. Two years ago we agreed to amend the Canada Pension Plan to permit the splitting of pension credits on divorce. The provinces agreed and we were happy with it.
We wanted also to recognize the important contribution made by home makers through a special drop-out provision in the plan. What happened? Most provinces agreed with us but the biggest Conservative government of them all, the government of Ontario, would not accept that amendment. I was interested, almost amused, to hear the hon. member's reference to what was said in the Speech from the Throne delivered in Ontario yesterday. I would have been happier had Ontario lifted its veto on this very worth-while proposal which would benefit many thousands of women in Canada and which has received the support of all the other provinces along with that of the federal government.
The federal government is committed to recognizing the importance of the role of women in the economy. That is why, for example, women in Spence Bay in the Arctic have been receiving LEAP funding to make high-fashion coats and parkas that are marketed down south; that is why the northern pipeline agency has contracted with the Vancouver Women's Research Centre to examine the role of women in relation to that project. I could go on to quote hundreds of cases where funding has been made available through various federal departments.
We have expressed our support for the improvement of economic opportunities for women. This is shown not only by the direct actions we have taken but by what has happened in the economy. Notwithstanding what the hon. member for Egmont has said, in the last year 324,000 new jobs were created. Out of this number, 207,000, almost 64 per cent, were filled by women. We are pleased that more women are working. We are pleased that the broad economic policies of this government have not only created more jobs than ever in the history of this country but also that women have benefited from those policies more than ever in the past.

March 7, 1979
Women's Right to Work
I said a year ago in this debate, and it must be said again, that the federal government is not trying to hide the problems unemployment poses for women. Since 1966 the Canadian labour force has increased by 37 per cent due to population growth, immigration and rising participation rates generally. There has been a steady increase in the labour force participation rates of women of all ages, and adult women in particular. In the period between 1966 and 1976 the Canadian labour force participation rate of women rose from roughly 34 per cent to 45 per cent, with the greatest increase in that age group often termed primary age; that is, the age group between 25 and 44. The participation rate of adult women alone increased by 59 per cent over that same period. In aggregate terms the economy responded well to the demands of women for employment. Employment growth among adult women relative to their population compared with that among youth and adult males increased substantially over the last ten years.
As I pointed out, women have been entering the labour force, not just out of a need for self-fulfilment-which is valid in itself-but increasingly for economic reasons, to support themselves and their families, whereas in the past women tended to enter the labour force during good times and to drop out during bad times. Their persistently high participation rate suggests that women in the work force is a phenomenon here to say, and it is one which we welcome.
What is important to recall, however, is that this is not something which can be dealt with by the federal government alone. The federal parliament has authority over only about 10 per cent of the work force of this country. Only about 10 per cent of the work force comes under the federal jurisdiction. The other 90 per cent is controlled, regulated and legislated about by the provinces in this country. That implies that provincial governments have large responsibilities as well as the federal government. It also implies a large role for unions.
I would like to pay tribute here to women leaders of the labour movement such as Shirley Carr, Grace Hartman and Nadine Hunt. I know that in spite of considerable efforts the union movement has its problems too in focusing on women's issues. Some unions are just now getting around to hiring status of women co-ordinators. We began in 1971.
I would like now to say a few words about the public service.
[ Translation]
Early this year I was happy to receive from the Advisory Council their report entitled: "Women in the Public Service: Barriers to Equal Opportunity." We are aware of the need to multiply our efforts in that regard. Mr. Speaker, why do you think we have set up the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women in 1973? It was precisely to play that role of advisor and critic with the federal government and to inform the public. Finally, I am happy that after their occasional criticisms the opposition members realize at last the existence of that council and the valuable help they give to all of us.
[Mr. Lalonde.)
The latest directives from Treasury Board to the department restate the government's commitment and insist precisely on those same points raised and highlighted by the advisory council, namely increased involvement of management in the planning, implementation and control of the equal opportunity program for women.
We have established qualitative and quantitative objectives to ensure fairer representation and better distribution of women at the various levels of the public service, not to mention greater job diversification for women. Deputy ministers are accountable for the programs of their respective departments. From the beginning of next financial year, departmental plans on equal opportunity for women will be made public. Once again, we have established objectives and will concentrate our effort in order to achieve them. Had the opposition really wanted to gain an insight into the matter, they would certainly have insisted on inviting Public Service Commission Chairman Edgar Gallant to appear before a parliamentary committee. Unfortunately it is easier to have only half-truths, as was the case with statistics on surplus staff.
Hon. members opposite did not even try to check the facts because if they had, they would have seen that a good number of surplus employees are nurses who work in federal hospitals, which are now transferred to the provinces. Those nurses still appear in federal government statistics on surplus personnel so as to give them priority status if they want to find a job with the federal government. So, in fact they are now employed by the provincial governments in the hospitals which were transferred from the federal government to the provinces.

These are facts opposition members could easily have found if they had bothered to check. These are facts which they could have obtained from the Public Service Commission just by asking. These are facts they could have gone into extensively with the chairman of the Public Service Commission, if they had bothered to ask him to appear before a parliamentary committee to explain the policies of the Public Service Commission, which is an independent body answerable to this parliament. Opposition members could have asked the commission to explain what it was doing, where it was going and what problems it was facing, but no, the Conservatives prefer to stay at the level of generalities and half-truths. They assume things which are just not true.
We have direct leverage in order in council appointments, and it is where we have direct leverage that we feel we are making headway. I examined statistics regarding order in council appointments, and I was pleased to see that in that area we are proceeding at a faster rate than the rate at which the public service generally is proceeding. The public service is regulated by public service legislation and, obviously, by the Public Service Commission.
In the last few years we have roughly doubled the percentage of women being appointed by order in council; that is, by the cabinet. These appointments have not been purely to
March 7, 1979

honorary functions or to positions without responsibility. In my own area of responsibility the number of women appointed judges of superior and supreme courts has increased very substantially. There are women who are presidents of Crown corporations. The president of the Economic Council of Canada is a woman. The president of the National Gallery of Canada is a woman, the first in the world. Women sit on all kinds of boards in the various departments. These are things this government has done. We have led the public service and, I might add, we have led provincial Conservative governments by a very wide margin indeed.
Conservatives have made a great fuss about the size of the public service. Repeatedly they tell us that they do not want the public service to lead or to increase. As a matter of fact, they want to cut 60,000 jobs, according to the hon. Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Clark). Does that mean they intend to cut out the progress we have made in equal opportunity? I heard the hon. member talk about equal opportunities officers in departments. If they cut 60,000 jobs in the public service, where will they find their equal opportunities officers? I am amazed that a party which wants to cut 60,000 public servants will appoint full time equal opportunities officers in small departments and councils that have only 30 or 40 employees. Is that the type of management the opposition is offering to the country?

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