The Honourable Lisa Raitt,
Minister of Labour
Addressing racism and other barriers in Canada’s workplaces
March 21, 2010
Good morning, everyone, and thank you, Mr. Duncan, for the introduction.
This is the first time I have had the opportunity to speak at the Metropolis Conference. So let me start by thanking everyone here today for making me feel really welcome at this event.
I am pleased to address you at this important conference.
I would also like to extend a special thanks to the conference organizers for inviting me to address you on this important day, March 21, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
A great deal of progress has been made since 1966, when the UN General Assembly first declared this day, in response to the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa six years earlier.
While this was a significant step forward, this day also serves as a reminder that there is still important work that needs to be done to address this global problem.
That is why I am here today—to highlight why it is vital that we address racism and other discriminatory issues in the workplace here in Canada.
As well, I would like to share some of our government’s efforts to address these matters in the context of my portfolio, as Minister of Labour.
Our government is fully committed to eradicating racism and other discriminatory barriers for all individuals—because it is the right thing to do.
Out of this moral, ethical and legal imperative to act, we also gain the benefit of building a better, more just society, and a stronger economy for all.
The economic stakes are significant. That fact is underscored at this twelfth annual Metropolis Conference, whose theme this year is "Immigration and Diversity: Crossroads of Cultures, Engine of Economic Development."
Within this theme, there are two implicit ideas. The first being that the economic opportunities are there if they are acted on. Those opportunities are manifested in modern workplaces that we as a society continue to build and maintain.
And the second idea underscores the fact that if people face racism or are held back by other discriminatory barriers, they are not able to achieve their full potential in the labour force. Skills are underutilized. Productivity suffers. And so does our real potential for prosperity as a country.
So let’s embrace the opportunities we are presented with. Our government’s second phase of the Economic Action Plan outlined in Budget 2010 shows real vision for building the economy of tomorrow—and that hinges on creating jobs and fostering economic growth.
That’s how we will support the economic recovery underway and sustain Canada’s economic advantage now and for the future.
Canadian businesses and workers are the driving force of our country’s prosperity. We have a duty to ensure Canada’s labour force remains strong and healthy, and our businesses remain productive, innovative and competitive.
A large part of meeting these objectives includes ensuring safe and healthy workplaces. Here’s why: creativity thrives and motivation soars when people feel good about where they work and what they do.
Let’s remember that there is an important demographic consideration as well.
Over the course of the past generation, the mosaic of Canada has been changing. And that pace is accelerating.
New Statistics Canada figures project that between now and 2031, the foreign-born population of Canada could increase approximately four times faster than those born in Canada.
At this pace, in two decades, between 25 and 28 percent of our population could be foreign-born.
That would surpass our 20th century record, between 1911 and 1931, when Canada saw that proportion climb to 22 percent.
These facts point to an important challenge for us. We need to help people who choose Canada as their new home feel welcome and respected.
That connects to another important challenge, which is the need to include Aboriginal peoples and persons with disabilities as part of Canada’s diverse, vibrant workplaces.
By eliminating discriminatory barriers, Canada can make best use of all available talents. And that’s an advantage for all Canadians.
As I have previously underscored, our government is committed to taking action to address racism and to eliminate discriminatory barriers.
The Government of Canada, through the Labour Program, has implemented two key initiatives that are helping to meet those goals.
The first is an initiative called the Racism-Free Workplace Strategy.
This is a component of Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism. It includes resources for:
A key component of this strategy has been the collaboration with the Metropolis Project, which provides a forum to discuss and learn about racism in the workplace and, most importantly, talk about the solutions for how to deal with it.
I would also like to underline the role the Government of Canada plays in supporting employees and businesses under the Employment Equity Act.
We work with over 1,500 employers and over 2 million workers who are covered by this legislation.
Our efforts here go a long way toward eliminating systemic barriers that prevent the full participation of members of visible minorities and Aboriginal peoples within the workforce.
Our efforts to support both of these initiatives are vital. Not only because they show that we are living up to our commitment to ensuring a fair and inclusive society.
Our success in these areas also means that Canada can continue to recruit and retain a highly competitive workforce that is uniquely rooted in embracing diversity.
As noted in the latest Speech from the Throne, "Canada is a country of immigrants…and a country of refuge. [And] To be Canadian is to show the world that people drawn from every nation can live in harmony."
These are common values we share as a nation that bind us, that enable us to live in harmony.
We are working to ensure that all individuals have the opportunity to achieve their full potential and fully participate in Canada’s prosperity.
And as I previously stated, immigration will contribute greatly to Canada’s growth over the next 20 years, as it, along with the increase in the Aboriginal population, accounts for all of the growth in our labour force and ultimately will add significantly to our well-being.
In this environment, sustaining Canada’s record of fair treatment for those who join us will be the key factor that allows us to attract the best talent from the rest of the world.
The presence of healthy employment equity programs signals to the world that Canada is committed to supporting newcomers’ right to equal opportunities when they arrive.
Our government is committed to eliminating racism and discriminatory barriers in the workplace.
That is why we will continue to work hard to meet those goals through Labour Program initiatives that I have outlined for you today.
This is how we will continue to build a Canada for all.