N.B. Liberal leader promises to impose pay equity on private businesses

New Brunswick Liberal Leader Brian Gallant speaks at a campaign stop in Fredericton on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. The Canadian Press/James West

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant vowed Wednesday to impose pay equity on the province’s large businesses if his Liberal party is re-elected.

Gallant said new pay equity measures would apply to government and other public sector groups by 2020, and to private firms with more than 50 employees by 2022.

The 2020 deadline would apply to quasi-public organizations, like universities and nursing homes.

The province introduced the Pay Equity Act in 2009, which gave government organizations time to implement the change, and Gallant said an amended act could follow the same process.

“With pay equity on track to be implemented across all parts of government by the end of 2018, we will pass legislation that imposes pay equity on big businesses, local governments, and organizations in the quasi-public sphere so that we can create a fairer economy,” Gallant said in a statement.

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Louis-Philippe Gauthier, director of provincial affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business in New Brunswick, said the parameters of the commitment – businesses with 50 employees or more – were proposed by his organization to the incumbent Liberal government last year.

“We’re glad to see that the recommendation we made found its way into the platform. Setting the bar at 50 employees and more, for us, sets the right balance for this type of policy proposal,” said Gauthier from Moncton.

“One thing that has to be kept in mind is that the time that’s invested, the consultation costs, the effort that’s incurred by small business owners as they go through a process like this – the cost is much higher per employee than it is for larger businesses.”

But John Gagnon, first vice-president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, said pay equity should eventually become universal in the province, even for small businesses.

“I understand the concern … but we should be looking at a way to make sure that there are no thresholds and what type of things we can do make sure that employers with 50 employees or less are not going to be severely disadvantaged by doing this,” he said.

WATCH: Busy day on the New Brunswick election campaign trail

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Busy day on the New Brunswick election campaign trail – Aug 29, 2018

Gauthier said pay equity already extends to the private sector in Ontario and Quebec, where employers with more than 10 employees must achieve pay equity.

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Two other parties, the NDP and the Green Party, have also vowed to extend pay equity to private workplaces if elected on Sept. 24.

New Democratic Leader Jennifer McKenzie has said her party would implement pay equity “immediately,” starting with the community care sector.

“We need a law for the private sector right now or else these discriminatory practices that affect half of New Brunswickers will continue,” she said in a statement earlier in the campaign.

“There should no longer be discrimination of any kind in workplaces. Liberals admitted that they did not keep their promise to implement pay equity, this is what this government has done time and time again, they have let all workers, but especially women, down.”

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The New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity is applauding the equity pledges, saying it has been advocating it for 30 years.

“There is a wind of change now that three provincial parties are supporting legislation for the private sector,” Frances LeBlanc, chairman of the coalition, said in a statement Wednesday.

“We will continue our demands until the right to pay equity is respected across the province.”

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The Liberal party also pledged Wednesday to raise the minimum wage to $14 and freeze power rates for four years.

The government said New Brunswick had the second-lowest gender wage gap in Canada in 2017.

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