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Equity Policies Beget Inequity

Moe Sihota, British Columbia's Public Service Minister, has announced his plan to open a new office, which will endeavour to increase the representation of visible minorities in the civil service. This is not surprising given the NDP government's commitment to social planning and rejection of the free market. That the media failed to alert the public to the tired logic of employment equity - meditating only on the monetary squandering this endeavour would entail - was more disconcerting. But the opposition party struck the coup de grace of political snooze; its members supporting the "laudable" thrust of the government's initiative, while ignoring entirely the rickety scaffolding undergirding employment equity policies.  

For one, public polls both in Canada and the US show that Americans and Canadians reject, root and branch, equity or affirmative action policies, as they are known in the US. The states of California, Washington and Texas have repealed these programs once and for all. One of the most supported election pledges made by Ontario Premier, Mike Harris, was the pairing down of reverse discrimination practices. True, the Canadian Federal Employment Equity Act is alive and nasty, sporting all the accoutrements of state control: an elaborate set of do's and don'ts for employers, an ombudsman, and the attendant quasi-judicial tribunals to enforce the quotas. As luck would have it the Act doesn't seem to be too zealously enforced.  

The groups deemed in need of special protection in Canadian society consist of aboriginal persons, persons with disabilities, women and racial minorities. Crudely put, the equity monolith holds that the proportions of these arbitrary and non-mutually exclusive groups in any given arena should ideally approximate their proportion in the general population. When this objective fails due to the many variables that mediate work related behavior - then equity proponents shout discrimination. Members of the legal system, for instance, defer to "Critical Race Theory," as justification for pushing equity measures. This theoretical miasma simply asserts, with little solid proof, that racism is systemic in Canadian society. The abundance of proof to the contrary, including a high ratio of mixed marriages is never seemingly considered an indication of Canadian fairness.  

The equity argument goes something as follows: Yes, women and minorities have the same rights as the rest of the citizenry. And yes, the law prohibits discrimination between individuals in the practice of hiring, promotion or remuneration on the basis of racial or gender based characteristics. Even so, women and visible minorities are underrepresented in the professions compared to white men. According to equity rationale the reason for this can only be "systemic racism."  

A careful examination of the data by US economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth reveals that, at least between male and female, the discrepancies arise not due to discrimination but to "different priorities men and women have in the way they balance work and family." Women bear children, leave the work force and then reenter it; while at the same time men of the same age have had an uninterrupted continuum of employment. Women, moreover, tend to avoid high paying professions like engineering, which would propel them into higher paying career paths.  

The Alliance for Employment Equity, for instance, contends that "facts show that minorities and women face discrimination, get less access to education programs and training, and are often denied jobs and promotion even when they do have the qualification and experience." This is not so. When a host of other variables such as education, experience, the choice of full-time versus part-time employment, and language proficiency are factored into the wage and promotional equation, differences in earnings between groups practically disappear.  

The National Committee on Pay Equity, whose efforts President Clinton touts and whose figures he regurgitates, carps about the fact women earn 75c for every dollar earned by a man. This claims-making relies on comparison of "the average wage of all women working full time with the average wage of all men working full time," ignoring once again vital variables as how long the person has been in the work force, age, experience and education.  

Consider the free market and its workings, and ask yourself this: If women with the same skills as men were getting only 75c for every dollar a man earns, wouldn't men price themselves straight out of the market? The fact that the wily entrepreneur doesn't ditch men in favor of women suggests that different sets of skills rather than a conspiracy to suppress women are at work. In all fairness, women can no longer be considered disadvantaged.  

Visible minorities make up about 17 percent of B.C's population, compared to only 6.1 percent of her civil service. This may be so because the turnover in these desirable positions is low, because minorities may lack linguist prerequisites, or may prefer to work in the private sector. Do we shout discrimination because French and Jewish Canadians earn more than Anglo-Canadians? No we don't. In all likelihood, the new office's efforts at equity will entail tried equity protocols such as aggressive outreach to the relevant communities, or maybe special training programs designed for visible minorities alone. In any case, there is a tenuous line between actively courting a designated group and rejecting those who are not deemed burdened by pigment. We can label them this way or that, but equity policies always shade into reverse discrimination. Above all, sex or race based appointments mar the achievements of women and minorities with the mark of patronage.  


 ©1999 By Ilana Mercer
  The Vancouver Sun
  October 13



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