The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Ready to Go

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AFTER SPEAKING AT A NUMBER OF UNIVERSITIES and colleges in these past three months I’m getting a clear sense of an uptake of interest in civic responsibility. Often the subject emerged in classes that, on the surface at least, seemed to have little to do with citizenship and engagement. When I talked to students following the sessions, I would ask them directly if they felt their respective educational institution offered enough instruction on the subject and the answer was most often in the negative.

Another thing was repeatedly affirmed: all those commentators who lamented that the Millennial Generation, and those even younger, were retreating into their own private worlds were themselves living in some other universe. Mountains of research has emerged recently showing that younger generations are in fact engaged, ready for change, and are more than willing to lead whatever it takes to bring about a fairer society.

It should be stressed that they have a specific kind of civics in mind and it doesn’t centre on the traditional ideas of voting or legal status, but primarily action, responsibility, even accountability of the individual to the greater good. They desire to volunteer, protest, become politically active, and promote advocacy. In other words, they’re set to go.

Increasingly these younger Canadians move easily through various dimensions that relate to climate change, work, relationships, charitable and social justice work, socializing, connecting through social media, and taking citizenship into new dimensions.

These are different times, occasions where the world is calling out for a new breed of citizens who seek to capture more than compartmentalize their lives. And just in time. Democracy was growing weary of the stale and divisive offerings of the political class. Under assault from an elite capitalist class endeavouring to find a way around the globe’s greatest problems, democracy was growing poorer by the year and less able to respond to the dangers of climate change or growing financial inequity. It required a new generation of citizens ready to engage across the board in order to alter the financial, social, environmental, political, and global direction of a troubled world and it found that answer in the Millennials.

In reaching the stage where politics had become a zero-sum game of diminishing returns, a new generation of Canadians has been opting to move the goal posts of expectations by an engaged activism. And in a time when the private sector continued to accrue billions while tolerating unemployment, environmental desecration, inequality, and expanding poverty, these same Canadians began operating in a shared economy that pulled all things together in a quest for a fairer humanity.

For too long we have been presented with two collective conditions: an impotent political state and a profiteering free market. But now a new generation of citizen activists is reminding us that citizenship matters and to make it effective it must enhance a new state to balance the other two: civil society. In such a world civic activism matters more than power or money.

Civil society is breaking out of the vice that had historically impinged it between politics and the free market. Leading that revolution are younger citizens who demand closer attention to civics and to the role of the citizen in the remaking of society. Or as John Dewey more effectively stated:

“Democracy is not an alternative to other principles of associated life. It is the idea of community life itself … It is a name for a life of free and enriching communion.”

The Real Duffy Dilemma

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You can also read this post on National Newswatch here.

DEPENDING ON THE PERSON YOU LISTEN TO, Mike Duffy has been fully exonerated, escaped conviction, or everything else in between. The failure of the Crown prosecution case to “bring it home” prompted Judge Charles Vaillancourt to veer from the anticipated criminal ruling into some unexpected observations of the political mess that formed the essential intrigue of the entire Duffy affair. One thing is certain: the manifest sins of the political elite in the highest places of the Harper regime tainted everyone involved, regardless of the trial’s outcome.

Mike Duffy is free to get back to business in the Senate, his budget and participation now reinstated. Or as the CBC’s Rosie Barton poignantly phrased it: Duffy now “rolls back into” the Red Chamber both exonerated and exhilarated.

And that’s just the problem. This highly partisan individual, so keen to serve at the Prime Minister’s command for party purposes, is striding back to claim his seat in a new era where partisan loyalties are supposed to take a back seat to the more noble responsibilities of the Upper Chamber.   As numerous pundits have effectively reminded us, someone might be declared criminally innocent who is nevertheless politically manipulative. There is nothing to stop Mike Duffy from continuing to pursue the same divisive practices as those he demonstrated prior to his trial.

We hear repeatedly that the Senate rules must change, that more oversight be given to independent bodies, that a more thorough examination be maintained over Senate activities. Who can argue? But none of these things can impede a hyper-partisan on a mission. Matching the need for more regulations over Senate practices must be the introduction of senators themselves who innately comprehend the need for decency, respect, and ultimately the necessity for compromise that more effectively reflects the opinions of Canadians across all regions.

This isn’t about partisanship, which is a requirement for political debate that provides voters with real choice and clarity of principles. Acknowledging the divisions among the electorate is hardly a bad thing. All positions along the political spectrum are alive and well in this country and should be admissible in the House of the people, where citizens carry more opinions than can possibly be assimilated into the governing process.

No, it isn’t healthy partisanship that ails our politics in Canada, but stupid, arrogant, blind, unbending, disrespectful and “gotcha” hyper-partisanship that has crippled us in recent years. Justin Trudeau should make ample room for the former in the Senate and refuse to appoint anyone who smacks of the latter.

We can’t be surprised when the Bipartisan Policy Centre south of the border, which has researched both the good and ills of partisan political behaviour, recently concluded that of the 12 most partisan years in American history, 10 have come in the last 10 years. The effects of that reality are playing out on our television screens during this American primary season. It is a theatre where things have become so belligerent that immovable partisan opinions are more embedded in concrete than open to compromise.

Canada is divided in its opinion, and always will be. The propensity for every succeeding government to maintain they have a mandate to do whatever they like is foolhardy, and will continue to be so until partisanship itself is wrestled back to the negotiating table and willful corrosion of the political system is expunged. That was what our first Prime Minister, John A. McDonald, struggled for when he noted, “A public man should have no resentments.” Neither should any modern public man or woman.

As former Clerk of the Senate, Gordon Barnhart, reminded Rosemary Barton last week, the Senate was once a place where members held themselves in deep respect until hyper-partisanship came in not long ago and friendships were destroyed. “I am hopeful that kind of respect will return,” he offered Barton in conclusion. But that can’t happen if people like Duffy aren’t humbled by the shamble they have created.

We must avoid at all costs the practice that David McLaughlin powerfully exposed in a 2013 Globe and Mail article:

“Faithful to the partisan glue that binds them to their parties, our political class is doing everything possible to diminish, demean, and destroy the precious commodity they actually hold in common: their own political integrity. In their relentless attacks on everything and everyone on the opposite political divide, they continue to devalue the basic political currency – trust – essential between electors and elected in a democracy. We, the voters, are the losers.”

Indeed we are. And if Mike Duffy reenters the Red Chamber as full of partisan braggadocio as his recent contributions have demonstrated, then it isn’t merely the Senate or the House that is the ultimate loser, but democracy itself. Fewer things are more dangerous than an unprincipled political operative. The task for Mr. Trudeau isn’t to cleanse the Senate of the partisans but, rather, of the unprincipled political warriors who would bring down a historic Canadian institution for the sake of unbridled power.

It’s 2016: Ideas on Implementing Equal Pay

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SPEAKING AT A BUSINESS BREAKFAST LAST WEEK, I fielded a few inquiries in a Q & A session regarding my last week’s blog posts on the issue of equal pay for equal work. Nothing really surprising there; the corporate community increasingly explores evolving issues like social good, living wage, environmental upgrades, and wage parity between the genders. One medium-sized business manager asked how best would a business go about implementing an equal pay strategy.

Obviously I’m no expert (30-year firefighter), but some lessons gleaned from the equal pay movement have a clear and pressing sense to them.

The first thing to remember if you’re thinking of evolving a business into an equal pay employer is that there a clear business case for it. Three important studies came out in the U.S. recently – McKinsey and Company, Ernst & Young, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers – confirming that companies with greater board diversity consistently outperformed competitors who hadn’t made that progression. Initial research has determined that achieving gender parity in the U.S. would initially boost the economy by $4.3 billion annually. These three reports derive from companies that are hardly slackers and their findings deserve some weight.

Secondly, do some of your own internal research. An internal gender pay audit would reveal to more businesses than we can imagine that discrepancies exist between men and women tasked with the same work. Government audits in Canada, the U.S. and in the European Union, revealed cumulative gender biases that will eventually need to be dealt with. Understanding pay disparity is ultimately about learning and knowledge and the best way to move forward is take a deeper look within your own company.

Third, speak with other leaders within your organization about their sense and the possibilities of implementation. It’s likely you’re not alone in wondering as to the responsibilities regarding equal pay for equal work. Put the concept on the table. Assess the likely costs, the ultimate financial benefits, and the place of your company within the community when it comes to leadership.

Fourth, map out a possible map for implementation. It’s not urgent to accomplish something so significant overnight, but it is important to move forward in a timely fashion. The gender equality movement in Canada and elsewhere has taken on more importance in the public, private, and political consciousness – everyone is “in process” on issues of this magnitude and time should be taken to do it effectively.

This last point is crucial in the operation of any business. The corporate world is clearly changing and being challenged by social movements that are increasingly based upon inclusion and law. Governments are progressively responding to citizen pressure and eventually laws will be passed guaranteeing equal pay for equal work between the genders. It’s best to get out ahead of that, or as the CEO of one of the most successful brands in the world put it recently:

“It is not good enough to do what the law says. We need to be in the forefront of those social responsibility issues” … Anders Dahlvig of IKEA

It’s not just about law but democracy, and the need for a better integration between business and citizenship. It’s coming and market share will slowly erode from those companies that refuse to undertake what the rest of the world is pressing for. It’s about leadership, community responsibility, and progress, and, ultimately for many, it is about better business. Or as Peter Robinson, SEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op plainly put it: “Ethics is the new competitive environment.” It is 2016, and time to catch up to consumers and the change they seek.

Nothing Less

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THE U.S. CONGRESS JOINT ECONOMIC COMMITTEE put their conclusion in stark terms. Though some advances are being made, the gender pay gap will not close until 2059. Presently, women on average in the United States make $10,800 less than their male counterparts, based on median annual earnings. Over the course of a career, this loss adds up to nearly half a million dollars.

Something else they found was equally striking: “Women make up only 26% of highly paid executives, but 71% of low-paid cashiers.”

Writer Lydia Dishman from Fast Company noted that the Hired Group made its own discoveries from its recruiting platforms that others use:

“Hired found that, on average, companies were offering women between 3% and 30% less than for men for the same roles … Our data – which spans technology, sales, and marketing roles – shows that 69% of the time, men receive higher salary offers than women for the same job title in the same company.”

Canada has its own story to tell on this subject and I learned much just from going over the Canadian Women’s Foundation website. It was troubling:

  • The percentage of working women in Canada has increased from 42% to almost 60% in the last 30 years.
  • About 70% of part-time workers in 2013 were women – unchanged over the last three decades.
  • Based on the current gender wage gap in Ontario (31.5%), a woman would have to work an extra 14 years to make what a man makes by the time he retired at 65.
  • In 2008, female university graduates earned $62,800 a year, while men earned $91,800.
  • A woman’s lower earning power means they face a higher risk of falling into poverty if they have children and become separated, divorced, or widowed.

This is a lot of data, I know, but it paints a pretty clear and troubling picture – one that isn’t changing nearly dramatically enough. While young women are more likely than their male counterparts to hold a university education, a greater number of them are the sole providers in their home. That means their financial security is often at risk. For women, their pay cheque isn’t just for themselves, but is the sustenance of entire households.

Lost in all this is what our economy look like if women were equally financially rewarded for the same work as men. Increasingly, economists are warming to the reality that a fairly paid female employee is actually a financial powerhouse, capable of purchasing and investing far greater sums of money into local economies. The American group, National Partnership for Women and Families, reckons that if women were paid equally to men for full-time work, they would be able to afford an additional seven months of mortgage and utilities, or 1.6 years of food annually. If you’re looking for some kind of action that could credibly alleviate poverty, this could be it.

At some point we have to put an end to realities such as that, of the women making up almost half of the workforce in Canada, only 5% are CEOs, only 15.9% sit in boards. It is a disservice to us all and cheapens our supposed prosperity as a nation. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan surely had it right when noting, “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development, and building good governance.”

This is our great challenge of the moment. Without equal pay women can’t fully enrich their families, their communities, their countries, their world. And neither can anyone else. There are two genders but one human race and the latter can’t advance until the former are truly equal. Or in the remarkable brief flash of inspiration by Susan Anthony: “Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.

Raising the Floor

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TUESDAY OF THIS WEEK WAS EQUAL PAY DAY – a date missed by millions.

We have the four main kinds of wages: minimum, subsistence, living, and fair wages. But the most important one is missing from this list – equal wage. According to Statistics Canada, women over 15 make up 48% of our national workforce. Yet when you add it all up, women working full-time make 72 cents for every dollar made by men undertaking the same responsibilities. So, yes, efforts at improving wages are vital for those in low-income situations, but our ultimate efforts must seriously embrace an equal wage between the genders.

It’s one thing to recognize gender equality and elevate women’s issues in public consciousness and in politics, but until equal pay for equal work is achieved our words will ring hollow.

This emptiness has endured for decades – a reality acknowledged by the United Nations in 2015 when it recognized that out of 34 countries, Canada maintained the 7th highest gender wage gap. That put us at 27th on the list. The UN Human Rights Report concluded that “the persisting inequalities between women and men,” including this high level of pay gap, had a disproportionate effect on low-income women, visible minority women, and indigenous women.

Okay, so this is a bit embarrassing, but the real discomfort we might be experiencing is that we have yet to make significant headway. As with the concept of a Living Wage, implementation will take time, especially due to all the complexities that will impact equal pay for equal work. It takes time for us to get our heads around the problem. We understand that. But the needle has moved so little in recent years, even as gender issues have take on increased prominence in the public, political, and policy arenas.

Talk to most people in any coffee shop today and you’ll find near unanimous agreement with the idea of equal pay for equal work, yet we somehow never get around to it, either to study it or level the economic playing field. For sure, it will be a costly advancement, but so is defeating climate change, poverty, or unemployment – challenges upon which societies move ahead.

Another excuse for inaction has been that what is going on right now is legal – no one’s breaking the law. As my friend Tim Carrie posted on Facebook yesterday:

  • Apartheid was legal.
  • The Holocaust we legal.
  • Slavery as legal.
  • Colonialism was legal.

There’s a lesson in this – namely that legality is primarily about power, not justice, and the longer we permit these legal paradigms to linger the harder it will be for the human race to make any effective advancement. Laws must be changed.  Or as author Farshad Asl plainly stated: “Leadership is the act of serving others and has no gender preference.” But we do have this preference and it infests so much of our collective life. It’s expensive. It’s hurtful. It’s inhumane. And if our aspirations mean anything, it’s unCanadian.

Hillary Clinton has been fond of saying American’s primary season that it’s time to break through the glass ceiling in regards to women’s role in society and in leadership. Agreed. But as Sheryl Sandberg has written: “We must raise both the ceiling and the floor.”  That can’t be done without equal pay.

Tomorrow:  More about equal pay and how to take action

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