Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. pay equity committee didn't meet for nearly 3 years, ATIPP reveals

The Newfoundland and Labrador government’s interdepartmental pay equity committee did not meet for nearly three years, according to a document obtained by CBC News through an access-to-information request.

Committee didn't meet a single time in 2020 or 2021, according to document

Women and Gender Equality Minister Pam Parsons has said pay equality legislation isn't a 'silver bullet' for solving the gender wage gap in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

The Newfoundland and Labrador government's interdepartmental pay equity committee did not meet for nearly three years, according to a document obtained by CBC News through an access-to-information request.

According to the document, the committee met four times from April 25 to Sept. 17, 2018. The committee met once in 2019 — for an hour on June 12 — and did not meet again until March 21 of this year.

That meeting was less than a week after Progressive Conservative MHA Helen Conway Ottenheimer — during question period in the House of Assembly on March 15 — asked Pam Parsons, minister responsible for women and gender equality, if she would commit to introducing pay equity legislation.

Parsons did not commit to introducing pay equity legislation, and as of Monday had not publicly changed that position.

According to the document, the committee has had one more meeting since March, for an hour on May 17.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Office of Women and Gender Equality noted Parsons became minister in May 2021.

"While formal interdepartmental committee meetings were not held between June 2019 and March 2022, work on initiatives to close the gender wage gap and address pay inequity did continue on a departmental basis and throughout government during this timeframe," said the spokesperson.

The spokesperson said the provincial government "is committed to reviewing all potential actions that can economically benefit the greatest number of women and gender-diverse workers in our province."

CBC News also submitted an access-to-information request for meeting minutes or an agenda from the most recent committee meeting.

"Please be advised that the deputy minister of WGE has reviewed this request and WGE has no records responsive to your request," said the office in its response letter.

'Continuous work'

According to the St. John's Status of Women Council, Newfoundland and Labrador has the largest gender pay gap in the country, with women making 66 cents on the dollar. 

In May, the St. John's Telegram reported on briefing notes prepared for Parsons in March, obtained through an access-to-information request. One of those briefing notes, dated March 11, say the committee undertook "significant research exploring pay equity" that is being reviewed. 

The province is the only one in Atlantic Canada without pay equity legislation. The others introduced legislation in the 1980s.

When questioned about the subject from reporters during the spring session, members of the Liberal government cited the committee as proof of ongoing work on pay equity.

"There has been a committee; there's continuous work on that and reviews were done," Parsons told reporters in April.

"Conversations are ongoing. There's always work to be done and there's always ways to improve."

Waiting for results

The interdepartmental committee includes the Office for Women and Gender Equality, the Treasury Board, the labour division of the Department of Environment and Climate Change, and the Department of Justice. The spokesperson for the Office of Women and Gender Equality said representation from the departments of Immigration, Population Growth and Skills, and Industry, Energy and Technology were also recently added.

Finance Minister Siobhan Coady and Labour Minister Bernard Davis have said pay equity legislation is still a work in progress. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

In May, Finance Minister and Treasury Board President Siobhan Coady told reporters the government wanted to make sure it got any potential legislation "absolutely correct."

"Our committees are working with the federal government and the provincial government. I will say that the provincial government has done a tremendous amount," she said. 

Labour Minister Bernard Davis told reporters in May he was not sure how often the committee met. 

"I can't speak to the exact number. I know they've had multiple [meetings] and it's been since 2018," he said.

At that point, the only time the committee had met in the past year was in March, according to the document obtained by CBC News.

Progressive Conservative MHA Helen Conway-Ottenheimer has repeatedly criticized the wait for pay equity legislation.

"We're waiting for the results from this committee and the significant research that was done. And yet there is nothing," she said in May.

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Darrell Roberts is a reporter for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's.