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The Canadian Myth of Labour Discrimination


Originally published in the National Post


Martin Loney

 Author Notes

Canadian writer and commentator, author of The Pursuit of Division: Race, Gender, and Preferential Hiring in Canada (1998)

Book by Martin Loney
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Pursuit of Division:Race, Gender, & Preferential Hiring in Canada
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 Essay - 1/14/1999

Systemic discrimination, double disadvantage and pay inequity are central in the contemporary lexicon of the Canadian labour market. The claim that visible minorities experience pervasive discrimination receives almost universal credence.

Thousands of Canadians earn a living in the expanding employment equity industry. Backed by a plethora of human rights commissions and government bureaucrats, they monitor labour market outcomes and urge employers to offer diversity training to eradicate workforce bigotry. So-called women of colour, they say, face double disadvantage.

The media, especially CBC, widely report unfavourable differences in outcomes between women and men or between visible minorities and other Canadians, tricking Canadians into believing there is some national consensus. How else to explain strengthened federal employment equity legislation or the legal action against the Ontario government’s repeal of employment equity legislation?

York University’s Institute for Social Research tells a different story. Two years after graduation, a survey by institute director Paul Grayson shows, race and gender don’t adversely influence York graduates’ job prospects.

Widespread discrimination would affect both employment and earnings. Grayson finds, overall, no reason to believe that non-white graduates fare poorly. No evidence shows that earnings favour European graduates: 13% of South Asian graduates and 10% of black graduates earn more than $4,000 a month, compared with just 6% of European graduates. Job satisfaction is highest for South Asians and lowest for blacks. Black graduates secure employment fastest upon graduation, followed by South Asians. In contrast, family income does matter. Students from high-income families find employment faster and earn significantly more.

Grayson’s findings jibe with an about-to-be-released study from the University of Manitoba, which shows that Canadian-born members of five visible minority groups earn the same wages as their white counterparts, and with Statistics Canada research that reports no difference in the earnings of visible minorities and other graduates. Women, on an hourly basis, out-earn men two years after graduation.

Unfortunately, the media uncritically reports myths about preferential hiring. When a 1995 Canadian Heritage report claimed grievous discrimination against visible minorities, the Globe and Mail reported that the study challenged "any remaining assumption that the country is a model of tolerance," and Maclean’s suggested the need for "some national soul searching." They didn’t ask two senior Canadian Heritage analysts, Margaret Adsett and John Kralt, who were less convinced. In an internal departmental paper, the analysts questioned the report’s findings and concluded that the study was "of little policy relevance, especially if social justice issues such as labour market discrimination" were the concern.

A subsequent study by Arnold de Silva, author of the landmark Economic Council study Earnings of Immigrants, went unreported. It attributed much of the alleged discrimination against visible minorities to such factors as education, language and work experience, and an insignificant 1% differential to discrimination.

Judge Rosalie Abella’s 1984 report of the Commission on Equality in Employment paved the way for ever more expansive federal legislation. Ms. Abella stridently championed those who claimed the most pernicious discrimination, assuring readers that racism was "pervasive"and women’s progress largely "chimerical." Research was not the report’s strong point. Discrimination was reported to the learned judge, who thereby confirmed its existence. Subsequent analysis of 1986 census data found, for example, that Canadian-born visible minority women, far from labouring under their fabled double disadvantage, actually earned more than other Canadian women, without the benefit of legislated protection.

While preferential hiring legislation lacks justification, it has effect. The federal legislation let feminist academics leapfrog male competitors, resulting in widespread gender-based recruitment—and even explicit race-based hiring—at universities. Women PhD graduates are now twice as likely to secure academic employment as their male competitors. That many such beneficiaries then teach students that discrimination in Canada is pervasive is not surprising.

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