This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Skip to Content

Budget Implementation Bill, 2018, No. 2 - Third Reading

Honourable senators, I too rise today to speak to Bill C-86, the Budget Implementation Act. Before I turn to some other comments, I want to point out that when I came into this chamber, we did have budget implementation acts that went to the very core of budget implementation. Very shortly thereafter, I would see clauses in the implementation act that didn’t seem to fall in with the budget.

We were told they were merely housekeeping sections put in for convenience and efficiency. In other words, when the government found some shortcomings in some bills, not germane to the full body of the bill but ancillary to it in the operations, they would say, “This was the first opportunity and we put it in there.” That seemed to be a satisfying rebuttal and we accepted it.

Slowly, this idea of housekeeping turned into full-scale bills being embedded in the Budget Implementation Act. That’s what Senator Moncion and Senator Lankin have alluded to. I want to add my voice to the fact that it was a little churlish, the thought of one of the press today saying that the bill, in Finance, took 19 minutes to pass when, in fact, we had put it to all of the committees that had some issue they could deal with. It went to the Finance Committee, and we did many hours of debate and study, individually and as a committee. The fact that it was 19 minutes I think is unfair.

(2150)

The point still is, what is really unfair is an omnibus bill. It seems that whether we change governments or not, that appetite for increasing the length of implementation bills needs to be addressed, and perhaps this is the chamber that can put its foot down.

In particular, I want to raise and share a few of my concerns regarding Division 14 of Part 4 and the proposed pay equity act. It is timely that I rise to speak to this issue today, on International Human Rights Day. This year, we mark the seventieth anniversary of the adoption of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As we celebrate the achievements made to date, we acknowledge that the fight for freedom, equality and universal human rights continues. Achieving pay equity is an important step toward realizing these goals.

Division 14 of Part 4 of Bill C-86 seeks to introduce proactive pay equity legislation. This legislation would require all employers in federally regulated workplaces to develop pay equity plans, and I’m pleased that my colleagues have expanded on those points.

While I support pay equity and the objectives of Division 14, I do not believe that the clauses contained within this division sufficiently address pay equity issues. Moreover, of great concern to me was the government’s decision to embed pay equity legislation within an omnibus budget bill nearly 900 pages long. This concern was raised by witnesses appearing before the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance during our review of the bill.

Allow me to share with you the comments of Mr. Derrick Hynes, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Federally Regulated Employers — Transportation and Communications, more commonly known as FETCO. He said:

This issue of pay equity is a critical one and it was a platform commitment of the government. We spent a lot of time on it. For it to be tucked in the back of a budget bill we found disconcerting. . . . There are changes to the Canada Labour Code also in there that we’re managing at the same time, so I’d say that’s complicated.

Colleagues, legislation addressing significant public policy issues merits thorough parliamentary review and scrutiny. When legislation addressing these issues is inserted in an omnibus bill, it becomes very difficult for parliamentarians to adequately fulfil their duties.

Aided by the reports of other Senate committees, the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance worked expeditiously to review Bill C-86. Nevertheless, an issue as significant as pay equity should be addressed in stand-alone legislation. This would have enabled proper debate and consideration that could have served to educate employers and the public on key issues related to pay equity.

While we may know what pay equity is, I can assure you that is not a discussion you can have with average Canadians. It is a concept that sounds good, but when they want to know what it is, it’s more than just a quick definition. It is applied differently, and it deserved to get that attention from the public.

Moreover, a thorough review may have assisted in addressing key stakeholders’ concerns, either through more rigorous debate or amendments. Key concerns were raised to our committee regarding language and interpretation of certain clauses of the bill. Of note is the interpretation of the phrase “while taking into account the diverse needs of employers” contained in the purpose section.

Appearing before the committee, Monette Maillet, Senior General Counsel for the Canadian Human Rights Commission, stated:

It’s hard to predict how it will be used in litigation or whatever forum. At this point for us, it is a flag. That purpose clause is meant to describe the purpose of the legislation and that it goes a bit beyond that in this purpose clause.

In other words, it could be far-reaching or it could be narrowed. We have no idea. And it may be litigious, time-consuming and counterproductive.

The Canadian Labour Congress raised further concerns regarding the language surrounding voting in pay equity committees as set out in clause 20(1) and the compensation exemptions contained in clause 46(f).

In light of these and other concerns raised, observations were adopted by the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance. I’m pleased. I would have preferred amendments, but I believe that within our scope, the observations were necessary. They call on the government to initiate a parliamentary review in six years at the latest. My difficulty is that six years is an awfully long time, and inertia takes hold often within bureaucracies and governments.

The observations that we put forward suggest eight areas of concern that should be examined during this review. These are key issues involved in pay equity that should have been addressed by the government through legislation at an earlier time and proposed so that the process and procedure were outlined. Having a fine, pious statement or, in fact, a commitment to pay equity is not sufficient. It is always in the details of the legislation that we find the expressed wishes of the government wanting.

While I accepted these observations, I fear it will do little to move pay equity forward in Canada. Amendments to the bill would have been better, in my opinion, to respond to these issues.

Once again, if we look at the observations, we have said that we should know in six years’ time the impact and possible discriminatory effects. In other words, we know we’re getting some kind of pay equity. We have no idea how functional, how efficient, how practical and whether, in fact, it achieves the purpose that the government has stated.

Honourable senators, I do believe it is not the role of the Senate to craft procedures, practices and implementation. The government should have done that in this very serious area. Not having done it, our observations are there, and I join with Senator Lankin in saying that perhaps there is a role for the Senate to properly address the pay equity issue. Therefore, it is not the Senate’s fault that we get 800 pages, but we will do the best we can within our parliamentary mandate.

Thank you, honourable senators.