This year’s Women’s March on Toronto felt different, more somber, than the ones I attended here and in London, Ontario, in years past. It wasn’t just the day’s frigid temperature, but a renewed sense of fight, a more acutely boiling rage among the women present, who have watched for months as Doug Ford’s Ontario government has attacked their rights and pushed forward regressive government policies that promote discrimination.
Standing among the sea of bodies, listening to the roster of speakers call for a better, safer, more inclusive world, I couldn’t stop thinking about Doug Ford’s recent move to shelve pay equity reforms for women.
"At the expense of women, their cynical gamble failed." #OnPoli
In a press release sent a few weeks ago, Ford’s government patted itself on the back for a handful of measures it claimed would ring in “a new year of competitiveness for Ontario’s labour market.”
Apparently, that included allowing corporations to underpay women.
Among the reforms Ford touted was his move to put the Pay Transparency Act (PTA) on ice – perhaps indefinitely. The legislation, passed far too late in the game by the previous Liberal government, just before the spring election, was set to take effect on Jan. 1, but the Ford government stalled its implementation, and hasn’t, to date, given any indication as to when — or even if — the Act will be enforced.
To be clear, the Pay Transparency Act wasn’t exactly a shining beacon of light. It was weak legislation that proposed modest reforms towards pay equity. It only applied to companies with more than 100 employees. It didn’t eliminate the gap between pay cheques, but it increased transparency, in the hope that women would be empowered to demand equal pay and employers would be dissuaded from discriminatory practices.
It was also 15 years too late. Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals set the implementation date for this long-overdue legislation for January 1, 2019 — after the election. Just like with the minimum wage increases, Wynne’s Liberals were sending a message to voters: elect us again, or you won’t get this.
And, at the expense of women, their cynical gamble failed.
Now, here we are. It’s 2019, and women in Ontario continue to be left behind when it comes to pay equity.
'It was better than nothing'
In 2015, the gap in hourly wages between women and men was 14 percentage points, according to the Ontario Equal Pay Coalition, using Statistics Canada’s Labour Income Dynamics data. Women make up the majority of part-time workers, and dominate in minimum wage jobs. The pay gap gets worse when a woman is racialized, Indigenous, from an immigrant or migrant background, has a disability, is elderly or identifies as LGBTQ+.
The Pay Transparency Act would have compelled larger companies to report to government (who could then publish online) the workforce composition and differences in compensation by gender and other demographic characteristics. Employers would have been required to list a job’s expected salary on publicly advertised postings. Employers would have been barred from asking applicants their previous salary, thus protecting women and people from marginalized communities from being unfairly compensated in a new job simply because they were unfairly compensated in the past.
It wasn’t enough – but it was better than nothing.
Where the Liberals let women down with weak legislation introduced at the 11th hour, Doug Ford is making things even worse.
It’s 2019. It’s well past time that Ontario had a far-reaching, just policy on pay equity. Ontario deserves a government that not only values, but prioritizes eliminating sexism, misogyny and other forms of discrimination in the workplace. Instead, we have a government intent on dragging us back to a time noone — and no woman, especially — wants to go.
Suze Morrison is the Ontario NDP MPP for Toronto Centre, and the Official Opposition critic for women’s issues and housing.