On February 6 the federal government presented its budget bill for 2009. Normally, this bill would have been limited to the required measures to implement the budget. Now, knowing that the Liberal Party would not vote against this bill because it would be a vote of confidence, the Harper government took advantage of this situation to include a long list of measures in the budget which have nothing to do with stimulating the economy and which, in addition, attacks women’s rights.
In this way the government introduced 28 pages of amendments in the budget bill which profoundly modify the salary equity plan in the civil service. One measure is aimed at removing the right of recourse for federal civil servants, to the salary equity mechanisms provided in the Canadian Human Rights Act since 1977 (CHRA) and to make a negotiable right which is contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the recommendations of the Working Group on salary equity. On this subject, Tom Flannagan, one of Stephen Harper’s spiritual fathers, explained in the Globe and Mail newspaper that if unions wanted to rely on an “abstract scoring system” rather than submit to the laws of the market, they need to make concessions on other working conditions in their collective agreements. Does this mean that the Harper government believes that equity will not be a right but a privilege, that in order to obtain it concessions must be made during the negotiation of the collective agreement?
Another amendment establishes that in the future one sex must make up 70% of a group in order that an evaluation of salary equity be carried out. This limit, higher than previously, will prevent a job category of 100 employees, of which 68 are women, from going through the salary equity process.
How can one explain such regressive measures ? We know that governments often respond to the interests of the big economic powers rather than to the needs of the people. But this doesn’t seem to comply with strict economic logic. Because the Harper government, in this case in particular, seems to be responding to the diktats of the new right-wing religious fundamentalists who want to impose their social morals. This new right-wing thinks that feminism and homosexuality are among the worst curses of society. We must return to the traditional family with the man as head of the family and the woman as the homemaker. Several policies promoted by the Harper government go in this direction : the various bills which open the door to re-criminalization of abortion, cutting subsidies to women’s groups who fight for women’s rights and legislative changes, such as the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), the refusal to introduce pro-active measures on salary equity under the pretext that equity has been reached, etc.
On the provincial scene, this time we have learned from a news release dated last February 23rd, that the ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation et ses partenaires, La Financière agricole du Québec, la Régie des marchés agricoles et alimentaires du Québec et la Commission de protection du territoire agricole du Québec, are expecting to join together this year “to emphasize a completely new activity which will, in the future, replace International Women’ Day: Day of the Person”. Nothing less. Centuries of struggles led by women with the goal of fighting against discrimination based on sex, celebrated by International Women’s Day, would be thus swept away by a backdoor maneuver. However, following a dynamic reaction from union representatives, the minister quickly abandoned this cock-eyed idea.
I therefore ask you to take advantage of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2009 to remind our elected officials that women will not bow in the face of right-wing politics which try to set us back in time and they will not give in to the current anti-feminist ravings. United and mobilized, women will not allow the right-wing to take advantage of the economic crisis to setback collective rights, that have been won through long battles. Womenhave learned that united and mobilized they are sure to move forward along the long road that leads to equality.