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The Hon. George  Furey, Q.C., B.A., B.A. (Ed.), M.Ed., LL.B. A distinguished educator and lawyer with deep roots in the community, Senator George Furey is one of the leading citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador. He was appointed to the Senate on August 11, 1999, by the Rt. Honourable Jean Chrétien.

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Board of Directors Modernization Bill

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Statement made on 07 December 2011 by Senator Rose-Marie Losier-Cool (retired)

Hon. Rose-Marie Losier-Cool:

Honourable senators, you are certainly not surprised to learn that I support the objectives of Bill S-203 presented by my colleague, Senator Hervieux-Payette.

This bill would ensure the balanced representation of women and men on boards of directors, thus reflecting the composition of the population in general and the workplace in particular.

This bill would guarantee a minimum 40 per cent representation of each sex on boards of directors. It is not the parity that I would hope for, but it is much better than the current situation.

Women represent 50 per cent of the population and almost 50 per cent of workers. Women make a clear majority of purchasing decisions and are behind the market forces that govern the activities of our private enterprises. Therefore, I find it quite logical that women should hold an equivalent proportion of seats on the boards of directors of these enterprises.

Yet women currently do not even hold 15 per cent of those seats, and barely 3 per cent of them chair the boards. Honourable senators, if we were talking about men, this flagrant disparity would have been corrected a long time ago. Women are currently under-represented in senior management positions and on boards of directors and have been for far too long.

I completely agree with Paul Tellier, who says that decision making at senior levels will never be optimal as long as those decisions are made by a crushing majority of men. Mr. Tellier, the former Clerk of the Privy Council and CEO of various corporations, is the co-chair of the Prime Minister's Advisory Committee on the Public Service. He knows what he is talking about.

After all, is it still necessary to point out how much better women are at managing people and money? Just think about the vast majority of women who manage the family budget and family crises. Look at the many financial scandals in the business sector in recent years and the second recession in four years we are heading toward. Why refuse the incredible talent and expertise of women when we need them right now?

I draw your attention to a fascinating special report published in last week's issue of The Economist dealing specifically with women in the workforce. Of particular interest was an article entitled "Top Jobs: Too many suits and not nearly enough skirts in the boardrooms."

The article echoes the worrisome statistics quoted by Senator Hervieux-Payette. In it, we learn that women hold no more than 10 per cent of board positions in Europe, compared to about 16 per cent in the United States. These numbers are a far cry from the ideal 50 per cent.

The same article talks about a study by McKinsey, the global management consulting firm. One paragraph begs to be placed on the record. Let me quote:

McKinsey in 2007 studied over 230 public and private companies and non-profit organisations with a total of 115,000 employees worldwide and found that those with significant numbers of women in senior management did better on a range of criteria, including leadership, accountability and innovation, that were strongly associated with higher operating margins and market capitalisation. It also looked at 89 large listed European companies with high proportions of women in top management posts and found that their financial performance was well above the average for their sector. Other studies have come up with similar findings.

My colleague's bill is nothing new. She herself says that a number of countries already have or are going to enact legislation imposing better representation of both sexes on boards of directors. In Canada, Quebec, which always does things differently, already has such legislation. Why does the rest of country not follow suit?

During her speech on November 17, Senator Frum opposed the quotas provided for in the bill, saying that the imposition of such quotas, and I quote:

. . . could make a candidate's gender . . . the most essential criterion in selecting that individual as a board member.

In a speech that same day, Senator Ruth spoke about affirmative action, which has been around since 1983 in the federal public service. Affirmative action means that when presented with candidates with equivalent competencies, the employer must hire a woman.

Honourable colleagues, affirmative action, which is itself a form of quota, did not lead to the hiring of incompetent women. It led to the hiring of women who were at least as competent as the competent men applying for the same competition.

Bill S-203 will go a bit further than affirmative action, by requiring that at least 40 per cent of positions on boards of directors be reserved for women. An argument that bothers me is that having these quotas will prevent companies from hiring competent men. This argument seems to imply that there are not as many competent women as there are men.

A similar argument was made against requiring candidates to be bilingual before occupying senior positions, since it was said that this could lead to the hiring of less competent candidates than if unilingual candidates were considered.

I would like to reassure my colleagues who believe that imposing quotas would be detrimental to women by undermining their professional credibility among their peers. This is like asking, "Was she appointed to the board of directors because she is a woman or because she has the required competencies?"

Unfortunately, this argument assumes that the shareholders would be able to appoint incompetent women to their company's board of directors. As I am sure you will agree, honourable senators, doing so would make no sense for the company and it would fail in the medium term.

Bill S-203 could create a problem if the pool of candidates did not include enough qualified women — you will notice here that I said "qualified women" and not just "women." What would the company do then?

This scenario should remain hypothetical if the company conducted an effective recruitment process before the shareholders' meeting. There are more and more qualified women in the upper echelons of their field, either within the company in question or elsewhere.

Just as I still do not believe that there was no bilingual accountant who was qualified to be the Auditor General, I do not believe that there is a lack of competent women to occupy seats on boards of directors.

Some advocate voluntarism; however, we need only consider the pay equity fiasco and just how little progress was made in this regard until legislation was passed. If those laws had not been created, the women who benefited from them would still be being paid pitiful wages compared to men. If voluntarism failed so miserably for something as simple as a secretary's pay, then why would it work for something as highly coveted as a job as a senior executive or member of a board of directors?

In conclusion, Senator Hervieux-Payette's Bill S-203 is a step that will bring us closer to true equality between men and women. I therefore encourage you to support the objectives of this bill, even if it means sending it to committee for fine-tuning.

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