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In the pay equity fight, Canada’s biggest provinces are ground zero

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Minister of Labour Patricia Hajdu during Question Period in the House of Commons on Oct. 23, 2018. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

In last year’s federal budget, Finance Minister Bill Morneau unveiled a plan to establish the Department of Women and Gender Equality, or, appropriately, “WAGE.” It was an all-caps commitment from a self-proclaimed “feminist” Liberal government to address a big issue and make strides toward pay parity after a decade of stagnation.

Canada has a problem paying men and women equally for equal work (no matter what the internet trolls tell you). Recent numbers from Statistics Canada suggest that women working full-time earned 74.2 cents for every dollar made by a man. Pay equity has been baked into the Canadian Human Rights Act for decades, but progress has been slow.

So Morneau’s announcement in February was seen as progress. As was the Pay Equity Act, tabled in late October by Patricia Hajdu, the minister of employment, workforce development and labour. That law will require federally regulated employers—in the banking and transport sectors, for example—to proactively spot and remedy unfair pay practices, rather than dealing with them on the basis of case-by-case complaints. The government will also appoint a pay equity commissioner to conduct audits and regulate enforcement.

READ MORE: Why the gender pay gap is everyone’s problem

These steps offered reasons to be optimistic about the arc of our nation’s pay progress. But, in keeping with the time-honoured seesaw of politics, where there are steps forward, there will inevitably be steps back. We’re seeing them at the provincial level.

Pay equity battles in Canada’s two biggest provinces will be litmus tests for how the federal legislation might fare. Most provinces still rely on complaints-based handling of pay equity grievances, putting the onus on workers to highlight discrimination. But in Ontario and Quebec—just like in Denmark, Australia and the United Kingdom—employers are expected to root out inequities themselves. In Quebec, employers with 10 or more employees must file annual pay equity plans, demonstrating that they have looked for—and addressed—any imbalances between the wages of female workers and men in similar roles. Further, the Supreme Court recently ruled that changes to the law that created five-year audit periods were unconstitutional. Those changes had meant women sometimes waited years for inequities to be acknowledged, then did not receive retroactive payments in compensation. The ruling was hailed by labour organizations and women’s activists.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks during Question Period at the Ontario Legislature on Sept. 12, 2018. (Chris Young/CP)

But if Quebec appears to be moving forward, Ontario has backslid. In November 2017, the Liberal government passed the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, which mandated a one-dollar hike in the province’s $14 minimum wage, along with reforms of paid sick days and vacation entitlements, and an equal pay for equal work provision. A year later, the backswing: in the name of job growth, Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives passed the Making Ontario Open for Business Act. While the PCs preserved the requirement for equal pay on the basis of sex, the province’s minimum wage will be frozen until October 2020—a massive blow to women, who make up 58.3 per cent of the province’s minimum-wage workforce.

The new legislation is “very distressing,” says Katherine Scott, a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). “Minimum wage, labour standards and pay equity are all pieces of a puzzle. They aren’t, by themselves, going to guarantee an improvement to the lived experiences of women, but without them, you’ve got no hope in hell,” she says. The CCPA has been a vocal proponent for raising Ontario’s minimum wage, explaining in a recent report (called “Ontario Needs a Raise”) that of the 633,000 people who would have received wage raises in Toronto, 368,000 were women, and many were new immigrants. “From what I can read from Doug Ford’s actions, there is a lack of respect for low-wage or precarious workers,” Scott says. “Clearly these kinds of disparities don’t appear to be of concern to him, and I worry about whether other premiers will be emboldened to erode potential wage gains for women.”

RELATED: What it would really take to close the gender wage gap

Janet Borowy, co-chair of the Equal Pay Coalition, says the PCs’ reforms are “deeply concerning signals” that the Liberals’ efforts toward pay parity will be stalled—perhaps permanently. Her worries may be founded: in its fall economic statement, Ontario’s Ministry of Finance announced it would be postponing the implementation of the Liberals’ Pay Transparency Act. The legislation, set for a Jan. 1 rollout, would bar employers from asking job candidates about current or past compensation and require them to include salary ranges in advertised job postings. Employers would also need to report gender-related pay gaps to the province and post results in their own workplaces by 2021.

Meanwhile, over at the Ontario Pay Equity Commission, there’s more bad news. In a statement, Emanuela Heyninck (Ontario’s current pay equity commissioner) explained that her term expires at the end of November 2018. “To date,” she says, “a successor has not been announced.”

Borowy says these rollbacks are a “huge hit to women’s economic justice” on the provincial front. But as the federal government looks to implement its own proactive approaches, she anticipates a “very significant stride for pay equity in this country.” Yet the national legislation is not without its own flaws, one of which is timeliness: Hajdu has told reporters she does not want to “rush the process” of implementation, and that after the bill passes, employers will have up to three years to comply with the new regulations. (The expectations will differ for companies depending on their number of employees.) Labour and women’s groups are also lobbying on some of the finer details of the bill. “There are some pieces of the bill that demand further attention,” says Scott, “but the foundations are good.” Still, the success of the whole thing hinges on “having enough resources dedicated to enforcement.”

READ MORE: Glad you asked: Why your justification for the pay gap is bunk

Enforcement, she says, has historically been an issue in Ontario and Quebec. Alex Bell, a principal in Mercer Canada’s career consultancy, says that pay transparency, while progressive, can be a tough sell for non-unionized businesses and those outside the public sector. “From what I’ve seen, gender equality within the workplace is on the mind of lots of employers, regardless of legislation that demands they think about it,” he says. “But a lot of people were very concerned about some aspects of the transparency in Ontario—namely, the part about disclosing salary ranges in an external job posting. That shows your hand to your competition, which is not something most businesses want to do.”

If enforcement is key to the success of pay equity laws, public sentiment is an equally critical component of their inception. And, as Scott suggests, all this feminist progress has stirred up an unsurprising but still disheartening resistance: “I find it troubling that we’re on the cusp of some important gains in the labour movement and—whether it’s about #MeToo or something else—you can just feel the vitriol.” Too many people are asking, “ ‘What does it matter what women are paid?’ ” she says. “It’s this kind of thinking that continues to exploit people who are already very marginalized.” Even if the battle for pay equity in Canada is currently mired in reactive legislation and bureaucratic delays, Borowy suggests keeping watch on the activist community for clues to what will happen in the coming months and years. “If you want to know what the state of pay equity will be in 2019, keep an eye on the women’s march in January,” she says. “Women are done waiting—they’re taking to the streets, and I’m very heartened by the groundswell.” Adds Scott, “How are we going to break this logjam? Well, pay equity and transparency aren’t going to necessarily close the wage gap.” But without them? “We absolutely won’t.”

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Ottawa unveils funding for poultry and egg farmers hurt by free-trade deals

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Canadian egg and poultry farmers who’ve lost domestic market share due to two recent free-trade agreements will soon have access to $691 million in federal cash, Canada’s agriculture minister announced Saturday.

Marie-Claude Bibeau shared details of the long-awaited funds in a virtual news conference.

“Today we position our young farmers for growth and success tomorrow,” she said.

The money follows a previously announced $1.75 billion for the dairy sector linked to free-trade deals with Europe and countries on the Pacific Rim, one that came into effect in 2017 and the other in 2018.

The dairy sector funds were to flow over eight years, and the first $345 million payment was sent out last year.

But on Saturday, Bibeau announced a schedule for the remaining payments that will see the money flow over three years — beginning with $468 million in 2020-21, $469 million in 2021-22 and $468 million in 2022-23.

Bibeau said the most recently announced funds for dairy farmers amount to an average farm of 80 cows receiving a direct payment of $38,000 in the first year.

Payments based on formulas

David Wiens, vice-president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, said the money will help farms make investments for the future.

“I think particularly for the younger farmers who have really struggled since these agreements have been ratified, they can actually now see opportunities, how they can continue to make those investments on the farm so that they can continue on,” he said.

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Employee of Ottawa Metro store tests positive for COVID-19

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Metro says an employee of its grocery store on Beechwood Avenue in Ottawa has tested positive for COVID-19.

The company says the employee’s positive test result was reported on Nov. 25. The employee had last been at work at the Metro at 50 Beechwood Ave. on Nov. 19.

Earlier this month, Metro reported several cases of COVID-19 at its warehouse on Old Innes Road.

Positive test results were reported on Nov. 2, Nov. 6, Nov. 11, and Nov. 19. The first two employees worked at the produce warehouse at 1184 Old Innes Rd. The other two worked at the distribution centre at the same address.

Metro lists cases of COVID-19 in employees of its stores and warehouses on its website

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Tinseltown: Where 50-year-old ‘tough guys’ become youngsters again

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Audy Czigler wears glitter like a Pennsylvania miner wears coal dust. It’s on his face and hands, in his hair and on his clothing. It’s an occupational hazard that he says he just can’t get rid of.

And when he’s sifting through job applications from people wanting to work at his Tinseltown Christmas Emporium on Somerset Street W. in Hintonburg, the glitter is a consideration. For he’s not looking for people who can simply endure it; no, he’s screening for people who revel and carouse in glitter, for those for whom the 10,000th playing of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus is as refreshing as the first, for those who believe that the 12 days of Christmas last 365 days a year. The believers.

Sure, he has heard the voices of skeptical passersby on the sidewalk outside his shop, especially in the summer months when visions of sugarplums have receded from many people’s minds.

“I hear them out there a few times a day,” he says, “wondering how a Christmas store can possibly survive year-round.

“I want to go out and tell them,” he adds, but his voice trails off as a customer approaches and asks about an ornament she saw there recently, of a red cardinal in a white heart. Where is it?

There’s scant room for sidewalk skeptics now, crowded out by the dozens of shoppers who, since October, have regularly lined up outside the store, patiently biding their time (and flocks) as pandemic-induced regulations limit the shop to 18 customers at a time.

Once inside, visitors will be forgiven for not first noticing the glitter, or even the rendition of Baby, It’s Cold Outside playing on the speakers. For there’s no specific “first thing” you notice. The first thing you notice is EVERYTHING — a floor-to-ceiling cornucopia of festivity, reminiscent perhaps of how the blind man in the Gospel of John may have felt when Jesus rubbed spit and mud in his eyes and gave him sight for the first time.

https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/tinseltown-where-50-year-old-tough-guys-become-youngsters-again

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