Prime Minister Trudeau delivers remarks at the Equal Voice International Women's Day event
Happy International Women’s Day. Thank you for giving me the chance to be here with all of you today. It’s an honour to be recognized for the work that our government is doing to create more opportunities for women and girls to succeed. And it’s a special privilege to be recognized alongside Lisa McLeod, who has worked so hard to make Queen’s Park a better and more family-friendly workplace for women and, frankly, for men too. I also want to take a moment to congratulate Lisa on the passage of Rowan’s Law earlier this week.
Thanks to Lisa’s efforts to gain all-party support for concussion legislation at Queen’s Park, young women and men who are active in sports will be safer every time they play.
Now, Lisa and I obviously differ on a few things. She’s a Liberal... she’s a Conservative, I’m a Liberal...
But we’re in total agreement when it comes to making politics a more welcoming space for women.
Creating that kind of cultural shift in politics is the right thing to do of course, but it’s also the smart thing to do, not just for women and girls, but for everyone. I’m reminded of the challenge that I went through in trying to recruit an extraordinary woman for politics, who’s here with us today, someone who had an amazing job and a busy life in New York and a young family of three, with whom I had long, long conversations trying to convince her, please, come into politics. And of all the different arguments I could make, a contested nomination in Toronto so that she could then move to Ottawa wasn’t as compelling as I thought it would be. But it was the call to service, the call that her country needed her, that the world needed her to step out of her journalist shoes and into a position where she could actually make a difference. And when we look at what she’s doing on the world stage today, it’s hard to imagine the uncertainty that she felt on whether or not she should do it. But we are incredibly lucky, particularly this week, to recognize Chrystia Freeland as our foreign minister who’s doing amazing work on all of our behalf.
And she’s just the perfect example of when women and girls are brought into politics and given equal chances to succeed, we all do significantly better. Greater equality delivers stronger economic growth. That’s one of the reasons equality is the core theme of this year’s budget. Greater equality also helps build stronger communities, creating more opportunities for a diverse range of people. When we empower women and girls we send a clear message that equality is for everyone. And all around the world, when women and girls have greater equality, things like extreme poverty and chronic hunger are reduced. Families are better-supported and we build more pathways to lasting peace.
I know I don’t need to sell anyone in this room on the advantages of greater gender equality. But it is a message that we all know more and more people need to hear, in the business world, in civil society and yes, still, in government.
That’s why we are promoting gender equality and empowerment of women as one of the key themes of our G7 presidency this year. It’s why when we negotiate progressive trade deals, we work hard to ensure that gender equality is part of the conversation, just like environmental protection, and improved work standards. It’s why when I participate in events like the World Economic Forum in Davos, I am happy to challenge business leaders to hire, promote and retain more women. Because it is a smart and logical step for businesses.
When businesses are more diverse, they are also more productive and more profitable. Just a 1% increase in gender diversity has been shown to deliver a 3.5% bump in revenues for companies that hire more women.
RBC Economics estimates that if we had a completely equal representation of women and men in our workforce, we’d have increased the size of Canada’s economy by 4% last year. That’s huge! Even half that growth would mean more good, well-paying jobs for Canadian women and men, the kinds of jobs that make it possible for recent graduates to get out from under student debt, that give single or lower-income parents a chance to give their children a really great start in life, and that help more Canadians pay their bills each month and save for their retirement. The bottom line is that when we give women more opportunities to work and to earn a good living from that work, we all benefit.
Unfortunately, as it stands, women and men don’t benefit equally from growth. That’s not really news to anyone who’s been paying attention. In fact, I recently came across an old issue of Chatelaine magazine that really drove this point home. The cover stories were fairly typical. There was a headline about how to lose 65 pounds in six months and another offering ingenious decorating ideas for small rooms. Interestingly, the top story in that issue was a special report titled, “Women and Wages: A National Disgrace.” That’s a pretty solid headline. But what really stood out for me on that cover was the date. It was published in January 1982, 36 years ago.
Of course, we have made progress since then – I’m definitely not trying to suggest that nothing has changed in the last 40 years – but if you want an idea of what remains to be done, you need only read the title of this article.
Thirty-six years; the gender wage gap is still a national disgrace. The gender wage gap persists. Even though pay equity is a human right entrenched in law today in Canada, for every single dollar of hourly wages earned by a man working full‑time, a woman working full-time earns about 88 cents. That’s just not right.
And that’s why, in our most recent budget, our government announced a plan to move forward with proactive pay equity legislation in federally regulated sectors.
This legislation will be introduced by the fall as part of budget implementation and will be part of our broader strategy to support women in the workplace, a strategy that includes investments in training, in childcare and in support for women entrepreneurs. Once passed, this proactive pay legislation will mean that 1.2 million Canadians, whether they work in the federal public service, at a local bank, for airlines, for telecom companies or any other federally-regulated employer, will receive equal pay for work of equal value.
Let’s be clear: it is a major step in the right direction. A major step toward gender equality in Canada that we are proud to be making. However, that doesn’t mean that our work is over. This is just a first step, and there is much more to do at the provincial levels and in the private sector. But the federal government has chosen to lead by example, and we challenge our partners to follow us.
Earlier I mentioned some of the economic benefits that go hand‑in‑hand with gender equality, but there’s more to those numbers than simply adding extra people to the workforce. When women hold positions of leadership in business or in politics, we get better results: stronger financial performance, more innovation and more effective decision-making. I’ve witnessed this first-hand around the cabinet table. I know that when we followed through on our promise to introduce a gender-balanced cabinet, the usual suspects complained. They said that cabinet appointments should be made on the basis of merit, not gender. Well, the good news is I agree. The women we chose to serve in cabinet were every bit as qualified to serve as were the men we selected.
Indeed, I’ve heard it said that the men were lucky we promised fifty‑fifty, because had we had our druthers there might be more women than men on merit. And of course, those women in our cabinet have been proving it ever since.
Thanks to Chrystia Freeland’s incredible leadership, we launched Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. We now have a feminist international aid policy that will help to improve conditions for women and girls around the world, thanks to the efforts of Marie-Claude Bibeau. And because of the hard work of Maryam Monsef and Patty Hajdu, our strategy to prevent and address gender-based violence will help make Canada safer for generations of Canadians. Yet, as with pay equity, there is still a lot of work to do.
In Canada, women and girls make up just over half the population, but barely more than a quarter of federally elected decision-makers. That’s not acceptable. That has to change.
I know it’s easy to be cynical about the pace of change -- particularly given that Chatelaine cover from 1982 -- but there have been a couple of things in the last few years that gave me significant hope that change is not too far off. First, the recent by-election results. The Parliament of Canada has had 12 by-elections in the past year and a half, and six of those have been won by women.
And the other thing that makes me hopeful happened, as you well know, one year ago today. It was the Daughters of the Vote event that Equal Voice organized to help mark International Women’s Day. To walk into the House of Commons and see for the first time in history every single seat filled by a young women. I’ll tell you, I, like most of you, will never forget it. On the one hand, it was a reality check, a stark reminder of how far we still have to go to have a parliament that really does look like Canada. But on the other, well, I think back on the perspectives and experiences that were shared at Daughters of the Vote, and I think about how fortunate we would be to have some of those – sorry – we will be to have some of those young women in the House representing their communities.
I left that event more convinced than ever that the change in politics must involve women. But we don’t have to wait. There are a lot of things we can do today to make politics more welcoming for women who want to serve their communities. To start, we have to modernize our institutions so that they better accommodate family life. Look at the excellent example set by Lisa Macleod, for instance.
So in the coming months we’ll work with Parliament to ensure that the House of Commons can better accommodate the needs of members who have children. This includes better access to childcare and designated spaces for members who need care for their young children when they’re at work.
We’re proposing changes to the standing orders so that infants can be cared for by their parents while they’re on the floor of the House of Commons.
Babies should never be considered strangers in the House. And we intend to move forward with legislation that will make it possible for parliamentarians to take maternity and paternity leave.
As those of us who are parents know, those earliest days, weeks and months are a precious time in the life of the family. I know from my own personal experience. When my son Xavier was born ten years ago, I was a nominated candidate working hard in my riding, but I didn’t have to come back and forth to the House and I got to take quite a bit of time with my son. When Ella Grace was born 16 months later, I had been elected and was proud to be in the House. But my paternity leave was a long weekend.
There’s a lot of work to do to recognize, not just in Parliament, but across workplaces that men can and must share a greater role in parenting.
See, if we want ambitious and talented young women filling more seats in the House of Commons, like they did a year ago today, we need to make Parliament a place where work life and family life really can co-exist. So again, I want to thank Equal Voice for today’s award. It’s an honour to be recognized for the work we’re doing as a government. It’s an honour, but it’s also a challenge. We have to ask ourselves every day, how can we make life better for women and girls in Canada? How can we encourage more men and boys to support this important work by being better partners and allies?
What can we do to encourage more women to fulfill their dreams of business ownership, so that they can create good jobs for themselves and for others? What can we do help young researchers who are already working on new discoveries?
How can we help families share more equally in the work of raising their children and what changes can we make so that all children, including our daughters, see a future for themselves around the boardroom table and the cabinet table? These are the challenges we face as leaders, as feminists, as advocates, as Canadians. With the help of strong leaders like the ones here in this room, I know we can meet those challenges and we will all be better for it.
Merci beaucoup tout le monde.
Thank you so much.