Nfld. & Labrador

5 years after voting to develop pay equity legislation, N.L. government won't say when it's coming

The Newfoundland and Labrador government won’t say when it plans to introduce pay equity legislation in the House of Assembly — despite unanimously voting to begin developing the legislation five years ago.

Interdepartmental committee has been working on legislation since 2018

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

The Newfoundland and Labrador government won't say when it plans to introduce pay equity legislation in the House of Assembly — despite unanimously voting to begin developing the legislation five years ago.

An interdepartmental committee on pay equity — struck in 2018 — is still working on the issue, said Finance Minister Siobhan Coady and Labour Minister Bernard Davis on Tuesday.

"Our committees are working with the federal government and the provincial government. I will say that the provincial government has done a tremendous amount," said Coady, who is also president of the Treasury Board.

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 to the men's dollar. The province is the only one in Atlantic Canada without pay equity legislation — the others introduced legislation in the 1980s.

In 2017, then MHA Gerry Rogers introduced a private member's bill asking the provincial government to develop pay equity legislation, which the government unanimously supported. That legislation still has not been enacted, despite calls from community groups and advocates.

Women and Gender Equality Minister Pam Parsons said Monday work is ongoing through the interdepartmental committee, which includes her office, the Treasury Board, and the Labour and Justice departments.

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

Parsons said it's the responsibility of the Treasury Board and the Department of Labour to introduce the legislation, but on Tuesday, Davis and Coady wouldn't give a timeline for the legislation.

"We're not going to rush to make a rash decision. We're going to work through the process, and when it's ready, it'll come … to the House of Assembly," Davis said.

Legislation 'costly,' would 'involve significant legal battles': briefing note

On Sunday, the St. John's Telegram reported on briefing notes prepared for Women and Gender Equality Minister Pam Parsons in March, obtained through an access-to-information request.

The briefing notes include government messaging on pay equity that Parsons has used while speaking with reporters and during question period — and in one section, points to reasons against introducing pay equity legislation.

"Proactive pay equity legislation can be costly, operationally complex, involve significant legal battles and result in only minor and non-meaningful adjustments for a limited number of women," reads one message.

The Telegram reported that Parsons wouldn't say if she agrees with the briefing note but argued pay equity legislation isn't a "silver bullet" to solve the gender wage gap in the province.

On Tuesday, Coady and Davis said they aren't aware of legal or financial obstacles to pay equity legislation, including the prospect of retroactive lawsuits. They said the committee is still conducting research and jurisdictional scans to ensure the province gets pay equity legislation right. 

PC MHA criticizes delay

Progressive Conservative MHA Helen Conway Ottenheimer said the wait for pay equity legislation is "not acceptable."

"This committee was struck four years ago. What have they been doing? Why have there been such delays? she said. "It makes you think that they have not been working on this."

PC MHA Helen Conway Ottenheimer says the wait for pay equity legislation is not acceptable. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

Davis couldn't say how many times the committee has met since it was struck, but said it has met "multiple" times.

Conway Ottenheimer said the committee has completed "significant" research, and called for a debate in the House of Assembly on any potential legal or financial hurdles.

"Can we afford not to treat women fairly? How do we put a price on that in terms of, you know, fair treatment of women?" she asked.

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