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Marc Garneau: What Canada can do about pay equity and getting women into politics

Every March 8, on International Women's Day, we join more than 100 nations in paying tribute to, and raise awareness of, the contributions, the sacrifices and challenges facing Canadian women and all women of the world.

To that end, I would like to discuss four areas where I believe Canada can take a leadership role to boost equality for women: a new pay equity plan; attracting more women to politics; helping marginalized women around the world; and create a special Council for Women that directly advises the Prime Minister.

Canada's gender income gap puts us a poor 11th out of 17 comparable developed nations. Recent statistics show that women in Canada continue to earn just 81 cents for each dollar received by their male counterparts – imagine, 19 cents for every dollar, off every paycheque for the rest of your life.

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Canada's pay equity laws must be changed. According to an RBC economic report, the estimated lost income of women in Canada, because of differing labour market opportunities, is about $168-billion a year. This is not simply a women's issue – it is an economic issue.

Currently, Canada's pay equity system is a complaints-based system, with complaints referred to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) – and it isn't working.

The current flawed system puts the onus on the employee and not the employer to address the wage gap. It forces women into potentially protracted legal battles with their employer while still on the job.

I would commit to repealing the current system and enact a proactive federal pay equity law, as recommended by the federal Pay Equity Task Force.

A proactive pay equity law would require all federally-regulated employers to adopt a pay equity plan that would include all workers whether they work full- or part-time and ensure their pay systems are based on the principle of equal pay for equal work.

In regard to women in politics, we in Canada can take great pride that six out of 13 premiers in Canada are women.

But much more must be done to encourage women to go into politics.

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As leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, I would set a target of at least 40 per cent female candidates in the next election. To be clear, however, I do not recommend a strict quota because that goes against the principles of democracy.

If elected leader, I would commit to hold formal searches for qualified female candidates before nomination meetings are called. I would dedicate funding and staff to ensure formal training programs are available for potential female candidates, and ensure financial support is available for initiatives that help female candidates raise money, such as through the Judy LaMarsh Fund.

Third, let me address a more global issue.

I believe that we, as a nation, must put more focus on the issues facing women throughout the world. For decades, Canada has been the touchstone for the advancement of human rights and peace in the world.

While perhaps it is a small measure, a small act of kindness by our nation, as leader and as Prime Minister, I would enact a government directive to Canada's foreign service to make a more direct and focused effort to provide refuge and asylum for women who are persecuted in other parts of the world. That is, to offer Canada as a safe haven, a nation that will stand up first to offer sanctuary and refugee status to women who are persecuted by virtue of their gender.

For as long as I can remember, Canada was regarded with tremendous respect and admiration around the world for its kindness, its compassion, and its unwavering commitment to improving conditions for all.

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Finally, we must create a special Council for Women that directly advises the Prime Minister to ensure the office is recognized as a priority.

Women in Canada are tired of leaders who simply shuffle the issues off to the side for someone else to deal with – it is time for our leaders to act.

Today, on International Women's Day, this is my commitment. This is the kind of Canada I wish to rebuild.

Marc Garneau is a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

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