Ontario falling down on employment equity for visible minorities

Posted on March 21, 2014 in Governance Debates

TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – The province needs to bring back mandatory employment equity to level the playing field for all.
Mar 20 2014.   By: Debbie Douglas , Grace-Edward Galabuzi, Avvy Yao-Yao Go

You know an election may be coming soon when politicians start making promises.

The provincial Liberals, led by Premier Kathleen Wynne, have promised to boost infrastructure, improve skills training, reduce youth unemployment and balance the budget in 2017-18 while supporting businesses. The NDP, on the other hand, has threatened to force an election if the government imposes new taxes on middle class families. Finally, Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak has promised to create one million jobs, while making a u-turn on his earlier pledge to import right-to-work legislation to Ontario.

Putting aside whether any of these promises will in fact be delivered, the real question is why these promises, and who will benefit?

As we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, let’s examine these political promises through a racial equality lens.

A promise to increase employment for youth and adults should be welcomed by every Ontarian. And it is particularly important to groups that face additional barriers in the job market.

Racialized communities including people of colour (often referred to as “visible minorities”) and Aboriginal people have long been experiencing higher unemployment rates than the rest of the population.

The 2011 Wellesley Institute and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report confirms a “colour code” is keeping “visible minorities” out of good jobs in the Canadian labour market, where visible minority Canadian workers earned 81.4 cents for every dollar paid to their Caucasian counterparts. The report also confirms that such a colour code persisted for second-generation Canadians with similar education and age, though the gap narrowed slightly. Visible minority women now make 56.5 cents, up from 48.7 cents in 2000, for every dollar white men earn, while minority men in the same cohort improved by almost 7 cents, to 75.6 cents.

Importantly, the report notes that even during the boom years, visible minorities had an unemployment rate of 8.6 per cent, compared with 6.2 per cent for white Canadians.

In other words, just creating more jobs does not necessarily lead to more equitable employment opportunities for racialized communities. More needs to be done to remove structural barriers within the labour market that lead to inequitable access to employment.

Yet, none of the three parties have offered any policy initiatives to address discrimination in the workplace or to eliminate artificial barriers to employment for racialized communities and other under-represented groups. Thus, even if their promises can be fulfilled, there is still no guarantee that racialized communities will reap the benefits.

Also missing from these election pledges are any measures to address the growing racialization of poverty, as people of colour and Aboriginal communities continue to be over-represented among the poor and face a much higher risk of living in poverty.

Without access to good jobs that pay good income, racialized communities must also contend with such issues as higher rates of homelessness, poor housing conditions, and even poorer health outcomes. The recent study by the University of Toronto Cities Centre confirms that “racialized, immigrant, and lone-mother-headed families are over-represented in deteriorating apartment buildings.” It also reports that “recent immigrants and racialized tenants are much more likely to live in overcrowded conditions.”

To remove barriers in employment, Ontario needs to bring back mandatory employment equity to level the playing field for all.

We also need governments to invest in affordable housing and affordable child care, and to bring about targeted measures to lift racialized communities out of poverty. That, in turn, will only be possible if the government increases its revenue through a fair taxation system.

By making general pledges that lack specifics, politicians avoid tackling thorny yet critical issues that threaten social cohesion, and in so doing reinforce marginalization of those who are at the bottom of the economic ladder.

It is perhaps understandable why politicians try to dumb things down for the voters. After all, it is easier for a political party to win an election by appealing to the majority than by committing itself to effect fundamental social change.

Yet, while focusing on tax cuts makes good politics, it makes bad policies. As political parties continue to pander, they lose an opportunity to transform our society and bring about greater good for a greater number of people.

No one knows if and when an election will be called. Irrespective of that, in the spirit of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we hope that at lease one, if not all of the parties will rise to the occasion and address the condition of racial disparities that impair the future of racialized Ontarians.

Debbie Douglas is Executive Director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrations. 

Grace-Edward Galabuzi is Associate Professor in Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University.

Avvy Yao-Yao Go is Clinic Director at the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2014/03/20/ontario_falling_down_on_employment_equity_for_visible_minorities.html >

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