Look what they're doing to women in the public service of Canada
I just got off the phone with Judy Wasylycia-Leis from Ottawa and it was a pretty discouraging conversation. She's watching women's rights fall by the wayside, and that's tough for somebody who's fought for these rights over a lifetime. Moreover, there aren't many people standing with the Manitoba New Democrat on this one - a blow when you thought certain rights had become part of the fabric of the nation.
The unravelling of rights is exactly what's happening with the Conservatives' new "Equitable Compensation Act." There's an Orwellian title for you - like the Patriot Act. The change the Conservatives slipped into the recent budget - after failing last year - has nothing to do with equitable pay. In fact, it's the opposite. It removes any chance women in the federal civil service have of fighting for pay equity by denying them the right to complain to the Human Rights Commission, or to go to court, when they believe there is discrimination. Instead, pay equity issues are to be solved as part of the regular bargaining process but - get this! - if anyone agitates on the basis of pay equity, they face a $50,000 fine. So the Conservative regime is forbidding a woman from fighting for herself and, simultaneously, penalizing her union from fighting for her.
Once this legislation is passed, a woman working in the federal public service will have fewer rights than women working elsewhere in Canada.
"We fought this battle so hard 30 years ago," Wasylycia-Leis said in an interview with the Decoder, "and I never thought we'd lose what we won. It's shocking. They are taking it away in one fell swoop with the stroke of a pen . . . It hurts."
There is still a way to stop it, she says. The act is part of the budget legislation and Wasylycia-Leis and her NDP colleagues are trying to divide it off into a separate bill that would then face its own vote in the House that, hopefully, wouldn't be a non-confidence motion. If the Liberals and (one would think) the Bloc unites with the NDP, it could be defeated. The act should be in committee the week of February 23 and the House not long after.
Wasylycia-Leis says she's embarrassed men in other parties haven't fought harder for such a basic right for women. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, she argues, could have refused to support a budget that contains this new pay equity regime, instead of demanding only progress reports. "Maybe," she said, "they're not aware what this does to women." She is a veteran politican, who went from local activism and a spot on Howard Pawley's NDP provincial team to federal politics. "This is completely ideological with the Conservative government," she added, noting Prime Minister Stephen Harper began attacking pay equity years ago when he was director of the right-wing National Citizens Coalition and his party voted against it last year at their convention.
I know I've covered this topic before in the Decoder, but I find it so mind-boggling. In hearings yesterday in Ottawa, a Treasury Board official wasn't able to show Ottawa that any money would be saved under this new "equitable compensation" plan. But that's not the point anyway. It's about the rights of women to fight what they see injustice and - if they are proven correct - to have the injustice removed.
If the media wrote about any other group of people (you fill in the blank) being denied the right to even appeal to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, I'd like to believe there'd be an uproar in this country. Well, that's what they are doing. Right now. And there's no uproar. How can this be in Canada in 2009? It feels like we are going backwards. It doesn't feel good; it feels scary.
In Question Period all week, Wasylycia-Leis tangled both with government officials and urged Liberals to oppose the act. Here's a taste of her comments from Monday:
"We entered political life to make a difference. One way to make a difference was to ensure some measure of pay equity was being enforced right across this country. I cannot believe that the Liberals are going to sit here today and let this go down the tubes. I cannot believe that they are going to let the women of this country down simply because they got boxed in by some stupid response to this Conservative budget, which does not deserve to to be supported for one second of the day. I cannot believe it.
I may be emotional today, but I have been involved in the women's movement for some 30-40 years. When we started working in the women's movement it was not just to be patsies for the men or for a right-wing macho party like the Conservative Party. It was to stand up for women, to stand up and be counted and make sure that the laws of the land respected and reflected the great diversity of this land and the values of this country. At the heart of that is equality and justice. At the heart of equality and justice is pay equity, and what pay equity means is equal pay for work of equal value."