Canada's Original Think Tank

Debate on the amendment at third reading of Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Canada Cooperatives Act, the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, and the Competition Act

Debate on the amendment at third reading of Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Canada Cooperatives Act, the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, and the Competition Act

Debate on the amendment at third reading of Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Canada Cooperatives Act, the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, and the Competition Act

Hon. Serge Joyal: 

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of the amendment introduced by Senator Massicotte, which aims to promote the participation of women in the corporations that fall under federal jurisdiction, especially, of course, those that are active in the stock market generally.

I have three points to submit to your attention. First, I want to outline for you the context in which this bill and Senator Massicotte’s proposal take place. In other words, this bill is not in a vacuum. It doesn’t fall from heaven. It is a bill that will have an impact in a reality, and that reality is the right of women to participate in Canadian society on an equal footing with men.

This is a fundamental value of Canada. It is a right enshrined in section 28 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it is a reality with which we have wrestled, in the last 50 years, since the report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women that was tabled in 1970.

My first point is there. In other words, where are we in Canada as far as women are concerned, in Canadian society and, essentially, in the labour market? That’s my first point.

My second point would be to present to you the substance of the amendment, what it is and what it is not, because there has been confusion around floating quotas, floating obligations under penalty. All kinds of misconceptions have been spread around concerning the substance of the amendment.

Finally, because I can’t resist it, I will address the speech made by Senator Harder, the Government Representative in the chamber, last Thursday, when he invited us to shut our eyes, close our ears, keep our mouths zipped, vote for the bill as is and ship it to the other place.

Honourable senators, that’s not my view of the Senate’s role, and I will explain to you why I think we are not only totally justified in adopting this amendment but have a duty to adopt it.

Those are my three points. I’ll come back to the first one. Where does this bill fit in the reality of women in Canada these days? I mean today, not four years ago, in 2014, or three years ago, in 2015. The reality of women in Canada in those days was brought back in front of me, as we say in French, en pleine face, directly in my face, Saturday morning, when I read The Globe and Mail. I don’t know why Senator Eggleton is leaving when I’ll be quoting The Globe and Mail.

Hon. Art Eggleton: I don’t have any shares.

Senator Joyal: Page 2 of The Globe and Mail has an article by Elizabeth Renzetti titled “How the system failed #MeToo survivors and protected the abusers.”

Her opening remarks are the following:

There is one common trait to the stories of abuse in the #MeToo era, namely, that this is not merely an excavation of bad behaviour by individual men; rather, it’s evidence of the systems that promote and protect them. It is power seeking to shield and perpetuate itself, over the rights of women to self-determination.

Think about this. We are in the middle of the #MeToo movement that is shaking the foundation of political parties. You know what’s going on in the other place. We know what’s going on in some provinces. I don’t need to go into detail about it, but this is the reality that we live in now.

I continue my reading from the pile of newspapers, sipping my coffee Saturday morning, and I fell on those two editions of MacLean’s magazine. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, published last weekend. What does it say? It says that there’s one issue for which men will pay $8.81, and there is another issue for women, the yellow one, for which women pay $6.99. And the caption at the bottom of it is:

The prices reflect the shocking 26 per cent pay equity gap that still exists in Canada.

So when you go through the articles inside, you find out that overall, in Canada, the earnings gap between men and women who work is about 31 per cent according to the most recent Statistics Canada income numbers. So they seem like pretty reliable figures, Statistics Canada.

Then the article goes on to say that since 1990, when pay equity directives were adopted, progress has been at a snail’s pace, and that represents the biggest barrier to gender equality. With no effective enforcement system, pay gaps are seldom rectified.

And the article goes on. I invite you to read it and to frame those two covers in your office. It will remind you daily of the reality in which we live in this country. Put it on your fridge. Put it on the favourite door of your dwelling, but make sure that it stays under your eyes because this is the reality in Canada.

This reality, honourable senators, is pretty mind-boggling for Canadians because we live in an affluent country and because we have all of those nice landscapes — and I’m looking at Senator Mockler — those nice views of the ocean on the East Coast and on the West Coast and of the Rockies and because we have all those riches produced by the extraction of oil and gas in Western Canada — because we have to recognize that that’s where the government money comes from at the provincial and federal levels. Because we live in a dream country, we thought that, in fact, in the last 50 years women had made it, and Canada is an exemplary country. Honourable senators, I think the dreaming has to face reality.

The Conference Board of Canada, not exactly a leftist group, gave a C to Canada for the efforts to close the salary gap. And listen to this: Canada ranked thirteenth out of 16 countries with comparable economic conditions. Thirteen out of 16 is not far from the tail, as my former professor would have told me. So we’re not really that exemplary in relation to the economic status of women.

If you think that the Canadian statistics might be questionable, I put my hand on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017. You know, 2017 was almost 60 days ago. Do you know what the World Economic Forum is? It’s Davos. Do you know what Davos is? The Prime Minister was there on January 23. The group of the 20 most developed countries — the G7, India, Brazil, prime ministers, presidents — 300 of the most affluent and influential people. Just to register costs $50,000 if you want to be an invitee next year.

The Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum is not exactly a leftist or feminist report. It’s not where women dominate the discourse or, as the government would say, “the conversation.” This is the force of the free market at its best.

What does the Global Gender Gap Report of Davos state? I will read some of it for you. Canada ranks 35th in gender equality out of 144 countries. We’re not among the first 20 most developed countries there. Listen to this one: At this rate or speed, it would take 158 years for Canada to reach parity. So if you think the invisible hand of the market will do it for you and that through the normal seasons, finally equality will happen by a stroke of the magic touch, that’s not reality. At this pace, it will take 150 years to reach parity. That is food for thought.

This is, in my opinion, an important element, because the mindset of businesspeople in Canada has been well illustrated in a recent report by Deloitte, one of the most reliable accounting firms in Canada. Deloitte in a report dated from November, less than three months ago, came to this conclusion:

. . . actions taken by many firms to date in the areas of diversity and inclusion have delivered more optics than outcomes.

More smoke and mirrors, in other words. After decades of progress, the country has been stuck in neutral, struggling to advance traditionally under-represented groups, such as women, visible minorities, especially at the most senior levels of organizations.

In other words, there’s no movement. That’s the reality. That’s Deloitte’s conclusion after interviewing — and I’ll give it to you:

For the past several months we have had candid conversations with more than 25 business leaders and experts at the forefront of inclusion.

In other words, the most important, influential people came to the conclusion that nothing has moved.

So what do we do? Do we just cross our arms and vote on the bill as it is now, which is essentially to maintain the policy of “comply or explain”? It means “you do it if you want, and if you don’t do it, you say that you were unable to do it and this is it.” Do you think that, with that kind of policy, we will make any kind of real progress on filling the gap on the economic front for the mere participation of the other half of the workforce who can contribute to the prosperity of Canada?

When you are looking to the countries where that “comply or explain” policy has been implemented — the United Kingdom, say — and we always like to look to the United Kingdom. Senator Pratte mentioned some yesterday. Listen to this:

Of the new recruits to U.K. boards in 2016, 29 per cent were women, down from 32 per cent in 2014 and 36 per cent in 2012.

These are figures according to the report just published. It is the first time that the rate of improvement in gender diversity has declined in the U.K. since the beginning of collecting data in 2004. The Global Gender Gap Report that I read to you from Davos concluded exactly the same thing last year. We more or less drove into a hole. The speed stopped; it slowed down.

So if you think maintaining two hands on the wheel, as the bill provides, we know there will be a slowdown. There’s no guarantee that women will make it. You can close your eyes, you can expect, you can light a candle and you can buy roses, but it won’t give you results.

Honourable senators, this is the conclusion, not from me but from Ms. Maureen Jenson, the Chair and CEO of the Ontario Securities Commission, not exactly a feminist by nature. She is the CEO of the Ontario Securities Commission. You know this world of business; some of you might have some acquaintances over there. Listen to what she says:

. . . of 521 board seats that became open this year, only 76 were filled by women. That means eighty-five per cent of the time the seat was filled by a man.

Listen to this one:

Without an improvement here, we will never reach 30-per-cent female board representation.

May I have five minutes more?

The Hon. the Speaker pro temporeI was so busy concentrating on what you were saying.

Is it agreed, honourable senators, for Senator Joyal to have five more minutes?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Joyal: Ms. Jenson also said that only 9 per cent of companies have internal targets for women on their boards, with a mere 2 per cent having targets for women in executive positions. That is 9 and 2 in 100 per cent of companies. Do you think that we will really make it, honourable senators? I think it’s abusing oneself to think there will be progress if we maintain the exact regulations as they are now.

I want to draw your attention to what the Prime Minister stated in Davos on January 23. The Davos meeting this year brought focus to the importance of women. I will read the Prime Minister’s words:

So I’d like to focus on a fundamental shift that every leader in this room can act on immediately.

The Prime Minister continued later:

In Canada, like all over the world, much of the economic and labour force growth we’ve experienced over the last many decades is because of women entering into – and changing – the workforce.

He continues:

Companies should have a formal policy on gender diversity, and make the recruitment of women candidates a priority.

The Prime Minister further said that:

As corporate leaders, consider a gender-balanced board, or gender-balanced project teams. Anytime we’re looking for a new hire, we should be identifying women candidates at a rate equal to men. In Canada, when we look to fill appointments, we work to recruit people who reflect the true diversity of our country.

Now listen to this:

And we should report on the efforts that we have made in an open and transparent manner.

Honourable senators, this is the gist of the amendment that has been brought forward by Senator Massicotte; namely, to leave the board to decide for themselves what kind of target they want to have for themselves and not quotas imposed by the government. I insist on that because there have been many questions by my good friend the Honourable Senator Marshall who is very preoccupied with quotas, but this is not a quota. This is to let the company boards to decide for themselves the objectives that they want to define for themselves with the specific time determined by themselves and to report that to their shareholders. Is this really a tyrannical obligation or responsibility put on people?

Honourable senators, I’ll be frank with you. I would support legislation for quotas, as the Premier of Ontario stated last year. But that is not what is in this bill. This is not about quotas. It’s about the freedom of any board to determine how many objectives they want to serve on the variety of diversity; it’s about determining by themselves the length of time needed to reach it in their own mind and to report that to their shareholders. This is not the end of the world given where we are in relation to the situation of women in the labour market, which I described in my opening remarks.

In the last minute I have left, I want to reply to some comments made respectfully by Senator Harder, who asked us to close our eyes, vote on this bill, send it to the other place and that is it. I want to remind honourable senators of the statement made by Prime Minister Trudeau before he was prime minister in 2014. Prime Minister Trudeau said the following:

If the Senate serves a purpose at all, it is to act as a check on the extraordinary power of the prime minister and his office, especially in a majority government.

The Hon. the Speaker pro temporeI’m sorry, senator, but your time is up.

Are honourable senators agreeable to five more minutes?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Joyal: Thank you. This is an important issue because what kind of independence do we want to have in this chamber? I see some senators. Senator Plett, am I —

Senator Plett: Well, it’s too late now; go ahead, senator.

Senator Joyal: As you can see, I’m mindful of your reaction when I speak, senator. Thank you, senator. I appreciate that.

This is a fundamental question because it’s in the minds of all of us these days. What is the independence of this institution and what is the role of this institution in relation to legislation?

Honourable senators, I want to leave with you this statement made by former Justice Willard Estey in 2000. He was testifying in front of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples in 2000 on a bill and he was answering a question put by Senator Andreychuk, one of my close colleagues. He was answering about the role of the Senate. I want to draw the attention of Senator Wetston to this because I’m sure he knows Justice Willard Estey, who was Chief Justice of the high court of Ontario, 10 years a justice in the Supreme Court of Canada and a very learned and respected justice. Listen to what he told the members of the committee in 2000 about our role:

You have a duty. I thought pretty hard about this before coming here. The Senate has a senior duty to perform. It has to perfect the process of legislation. That duty must clearly entail, on occasion, an amendment or a refusal or an automatic approval. All three are within your power. Not only are they within your power, they are within your duty. You have to scrutinize this thing and see what is good and bad and purify it. That is why you are here. The second house invariably around the world is set up as a brake on the first level of legislation, but the executive branch tags along all the way up the ladder.

So this is what we have to do. We have to look at the legislation. We have to put it in the context of Canadian society as a whole. We have to be mindful of the rights of citizens involved in the legislation because this legislation aims directly at women, and the outcome of this legislation is in the hands of men. Do you want me to repeat that: The outcome of this legislation is in the hands of men on the future of the stand that women will have on corporate boards. I quote:

It is up to men to consent to the addition of more women on the boards and on management teams.

Think about it. Minority rights are in the hands of the majority that holds the power. This amendment is to ensure there is a minimum of opportunity for women to move slowly in the economic field at the level where decisions are taken that involve all of us and most Canadians.

Honourable senators, we cannot bring ourselves to live in a world where half of humanity is treated differently from the other. Tonight, I suggest that you go back home, you put that on the side of your bed and you think about it before we vote on Bill C-25. You must determine if you are comfortable that what we’re doing here is part of the effort we must make, as a country and as a society, to reach that respectful dignity and capacity of women to assume their fair share of what the economic prosperity of this country is. Thank you, honourable senators.

The Hon. the Speaker pro temporeSenator Lankin, do you have a question?

Hon. Frances Lankin: Yes, I do have a question. Thank you.

The Hon. the Speaker pro temporeWould you like five more minutes, Senator Joyal?

Senator Plett: No.

Senator Joyal: As long as the chamber agrees.

Senator Lankin: No questions?

The Hon. the Speaker pro temporeNo questions. I’m sorry.