Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Misleading and scaring Canadians on pay equity

The misleading headline on this Globe and Mail story about the budget and pay equity is emblematic of the fear mongering campaign being conducted by some for purely political reasons:

Pay-equity changes set to pass with budget

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
February 2, 2009 at 11:29 PM EST

OTTAWA - The federal budget revives the same pay-equity changes from the fall fiscal update that spurred mass protests and the potential collapse of the Conservative government now surviving with Liberal support.

This headline is absolutely false, and the Globe should change it immediately. As I pointed-out the other day, while the budget talks about the government’s plans to make changes to pay equity it does not make any actual changes, or provide much detail on what those changes may be. From page 211 of the budget document, this is the only passage where "pay equity" appears in the budget:
The existing complaint-based pay equity regime is a lengthy, costly and adversarial process that does not serve employees or employers well. Legislation to modernize the pay equity regime for federal public sector employees will be introduced. The new regime reflects the Government’s commitment to pay equity. It will ensure that the employer and bargaining agents are jointly responsible and accountable for negotiating salaries that are fair and equitable to all employees.

I’ve bolded the key passage. Legislation…will be introduced. As in, at a future date. No changes to pay equity will be made by this budget. Whatever changes the Conservatives plan for pay equity will be introduced in separate legislation that the opposition parties can debate, amend, take to committee, and either pass or defeat.

Journalists don’t write the headlines and so I don’t fault Ms. Galloway, as her own story gets it right and contradicts the headline put on it:
The budget released this week says the government will introduce a new means to establish pay equity. "The existing complaint-based pay-equity regime is a lengthy, costly and adversarial process that does not serve employees and employers well," the budget documents assert.
I feel pay equity is a serious and important issue, and I’ll be expecting the Liberals to closely examine whatever legislation the Conservatives decide to introduce on this topic. I’m confident that. with the three opposition parties being of similar view on the issue, no legislation will pass unless it’s good legislation. And if Harper decides to dig-in his heels on this down the road, so be it.

But because this is such an important issue, I’m disgusted at those in the political arena that are creating fear around this issue, misleading Canadians into thinking horrible changes will be made on pay equity in this budget, and that by listening to the clear desire and will of Canadians to make this parliament work, by passing this budget the Liberals are somehow gutting pay equity.

It’s a fabrication; a transparent attempt to score political points against the Liberals with falsehoods and by sowing fear. I don’t think it’s worth frightening people on this issue just to score political points against your opponents, and those who claim to support pay equity should give their heads a shake.

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Anonymous said...

I have written very critically about this portion of the budget as well (indeed, it will be the subject of my term paper in Poverty Law). I must say that although you are correct to point out that the budget itself does not contain the changes, only a promise to implement changes, there is significant cause for alarm for those who feel that women should have an effective remedy to obtain equal pay for work of equal value. The criticism is not merely political (though it has political ramifications); the criticism represents a genuine concern that a majority of Parliament has signaled its intention to abolish a woman's right to pursue pay equity claims through the CHRC. To date, I have not heard any prominent Liberal state definitively that they will oppose the legislation when it is introduced.

bigcitylib said...

Devin, but I am sure they will. This is no reason therefore not to pass the budget. It will be like so much legislation the last time around. Into the black hole of committees to be never seen again.

Jeff said...

Devin, I agree the changes the Conservatives are proposing raise concerns. My point is that no changes will be made by this budget, as some are implying for the sole purpose of attempting to tag the Liberals on the wrong side of this issue and score political points. Raise alarm about the Conservative plans, absolutely, but misleading Canadians to score points against the Liberals isn't advancing the issue, that's my point.

On Liberals speaking out on the issue, Michelle Simson and Ruby Dhalla do in the linked article. As for voting against the legislation when its introduced, its hypothetical at this point. We don't know what will be introduced, if it will be a confidence matter (shouldn't be imo), and what changes and amendments the opposition will make. So it's hard to say how we'd vote on hypothetical legislation but I think the broad Liberal position, as articulated by Dhalla and Simson, should provide guidance.

Greg Fingas said...

Wow. Just...wow.

Here's the language on pay equity from the 2008 fiscal update:

The current approach to pay equity is a litigious, adversarial, complaints-based approach. Under the current approach, the Government in its capacity as the employer first agrees on wage rates with the bargaining agents and then years later is forced to top up those very settlements through pay equity complaints. Since the mid-1980s the federal government has paid over $4 billion in pay equity settlements. New complaints continue to be filed with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, sometimes for the same groups that have already received past pay equity settlements, representing large potential future costs to taxpayers.

Therefore, the Government will introduce legislation to modernize the pay equity regime for federal public sector employees, similar to the process now in place in Ontario and some other provinces. The new regime reflects the Government's commitment to pay equity. The new regime ensures that the employer and bargaining agents are jointly responsible and accountable for negotiating salaries that are fair and equitable to all employees and that are in line with wages in the internal and external workforces.

And here's how one noteworthy Lib blogger described that intention to introduce legislation amending pay equity at the time:

controversial attacks on their opponents, on pay equity, and on public sector unions...

He has failed to deliver immediate and serious economic stimulus, and he has yet (to my recollection) to back down on the regressive changes to pay equity.

Canadians don’t like Angry Steve. He needs to admit that he made some serious mistakes, that he tried to play political games during an economic crisis, that he didn’t rise to the level of statesmanship Canadians expect, that he erred on the strike ban, on pay equity, on delaying stimulus.

But now that the Libs have decided to prop up Harper, it's "fear mongering" to draw exactly the same link which you and other Libs used to justify opposing the fiscal update?

Jeff said...

Did I miss something jurist, or are we voting on the 2008 fiscal update here? I thought it was 2009, and we were voting on the budget here.

Is it fear mongering to say the Conservatives planning to introduce potentially distasteful changes to pay equity? Absolutely not. I freely encourage you to monger away.

But it absolutely IS fear mongering to say this budget, the thing we're actually voting on here, will do one thing to change pay equity. And it is crass political opportunism to say the Liberal support for this budget is acquiescing to a gutting of pay equity, for the mere sake of scoring political points.

We stood against the fiscal update for a number of reasons. Pay equity was one. It was emblematic of the Conservative non-response on the economy. If it was the only problem with the update it wouldn't have alone been reason to oppose the update, as we could have dealt with the legislation when introduced. What we couldn't deal with later was the lack of stimulus for the economy, which is why we had no choice but to oppose the update.

While this budget does have issues, it has made significant progress from the update on stimulus. And we can deal with pay equity if and when they bring it up.

Greg Fingas said...

Jeff: That would be a fair partial response if your post criticized the headline alone. But you instead try to paint it as "emblematic" of criticism of the Libs on pay equity - without providing even the slightest bit of reason to believe that a single sloppy headline has anything to do with the movement in support of pay equity.

As for what the Libs have acquiesced in: again, their message last month was that virtually identical language in the fiscal update constituted an attack on pay equity. Which means that if they're willing to support a budget which contains effectively the same terms, then by their own standards they're acquiescing in such an attack - regardless of the fact that the immediate attack doesn't yet result in substantive changes.

Ted Betts said...

Excellent post, Jeff. Good catch.

Don't forget the primary reason for opposing the fiscal update was that it provided NO stimulus. In addition, we had these proposals to strip democratic funding of political parties, strip public sector unions of their right to strike and threatening changes to pay equity. They were threatening because Flaherty was saying things like "we all have to tighten our belt". Pay equity, no strikes, no funding were add ons to the bigger concern that there was no help to Canadians.

The situation is the reverse now. Now, the primary reason for supporting the budget is that we need some support for Canadians now, not after another election, and the markets need some political stability. So the suggested changes to pay equity, even if they are a threat, are no where near concrete enough to not support the budget and defeat the government and go into an election, especially in these circumstances, especially when we have a chance to look at the actual pay equity proposals after committee (like sometime in 2013!).

Jeff said...

jurist, I don't think I'd have to look too far to say certain people are trying to equate the Liberal decision to let the budget pass as the Liberals supporting a gutting of pay equity. If been trying to avoid calling-out the NDP on this, but they have been quite vocally in the media attacking the Liberals on this, and a) implying this budget will change pay equity, and b) that Liberal passage of the budget=Liberal opposition to pay equity.

As I said, and as Ted said, the update and the budget are two different issues. We didn't oppose the update because it in they said they planned to gut pay equity. But the fact it talked about gutting pay equity, and the PS right to strike, etc., instead of providing stimulus, was an example of why the Conservatives were off base. But we opposed the update because Canadians needed stimulus now.

Are the Conservatives wrong on pay equity? Yes. On that, we are in agreement. But the fact is this budget does nothing to pay equity, and those who equate Liberal support for the budget with opposition to pay equity are just lying.