Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Don’t Be Fooled by Equity Newspeak

January 1, 1994 -

Honesty is one thing that has been missing from the debate on employment equity, with the truth obscured by layer upon layer of carefully scripted pseudo-science, bafflegab and out and out lies.
Globe and Mail editorial (November 12, 1993) 

George Orwell, author of the famous anti-totalitarian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, foresaw what we are now witnessing in the anti-discrimination policies of governments. His novel described life controlled by an all-powerful, all-knowing Party. The tools of control and manipulation were terror and the Big Lie. We are fortunate that the two are not combined in our country at this time. But the art of "newspeak" and hypocrisy is alive and well in our midst.

Take the Ontario government's soon to be proclaimed Employment Equity Act (Bill 79), which states in its preamble:

The people of Ontario recognize that Aboriginal people, people with disabilities, members of racial minorities and women experience higher rates of unemployment than other people in Ontario....People in these groups experience more discrimination than other people in finding employment, in retaining employment and in being promoted....The people of Ontario recognize that this lack of employment equity...is caused by both systemic and intentional discrimination. 

The Ontario government has set out to rectify this evil through the imposition of a detailed program of recruiting, employing, and promoting of the four designated categories of people. The law will apply to the public sector and all companies in the private sector with more than 50 employees.

Confusion about the real meaning of the new law begins with the terminology. The word "equity" means justice or fairness, and no one can object to that. But the Employment Equity Act is not about justice. It is a nice-sounding cover for massive government intervention and legalized reverse discrimination.

The proponents of the new form of discrimination carefully shy away from the term "quotas," which smacks of precise numbers enforced by a powerful bureaucracy. We are told that affirmative hiring policies are not about quotas but about "time tables" and "goals." This soothing language is intended to satisfy critics, but the precise wording of the Act leaves no doubt that employers will be compelled to hire and promote specific numbers from the four target groups:

Every employers' workforce, in all occupational categories and at all levels of employment, shall reflect the representation of Aboriginal people, people with disabilities, members of racial minorities and women in the community. 

Never mind that it is an absurdity to assume, as this legislation does, that the number of available and competent persons among the target groups in the community are proportionate to their overall numbers. In practice, enforcement tribunals and panels will be invested with immense arbitrary powers to ensure proper compliance. But, because of the complexity and variety of society, the law can never be enforced in a just and fair manner.

Employers who fail to comply are liable to fines of up to $50,000. Yet, the Ontario government piously describes its new policies as a "voluntary" program. In the same vein, it has redefined its reverse discrimination policies as "positive measures."

Growing resentment

There is no evidence that "the people of Ontario" agree with the rationale of the government and its proposed "positive measures." A recent Gallup poll found that three-quarters of Canadians are opposed to employment equity policies. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the true significance of such legislation when it is first discussed and enacted. But when the discriminatory effect of these policies becomes evident, the public reacts with outrage.

A case in point was the widespread opposition against an Ontario government ad for a senior civil service position that barred English-speaking white males from applying. At first the government defended the ad, but it backed down when the clamour persisted. This retreat did not represent a change in policy but merely a tactical move to pacify an aroused public. For, as the responsible government official first stated in defence of the ad, excluding white males from this position was simply applying the rules of employment equity.

This ad demonstrates how equality of opportunity has been replaced by a new kind of "apartheid" and reverse discrimination that cannot and will not do what its proponents claim. On the contrary, it is bound to incite race- and gender-based envy and animosity in the workplace as well as in society.

People opposed to affirmative action legislation can take some comfort from the fact that even governments are beginning to realize they have created a monster that must be reined in. Admittedly, it is cold comfort because this realization has only led to more costly absurdities.

Consider the case now before the Canadian Human Rights Commission in which the federal government is contesting the Commission's and the public service unions' claim for some $500 million in additional pay equity catch-up payments. Previously, the government paid out a similar amount and now refuses to pay again. This dispute goes back a number of years and has been argued before the Commission for more than two years (at an estimated cost of $2 million per year), a process that may not be completed until 1995. The tribunal has so far sat for 170 days and compiled 23,000 pages of evidence. Even some of the people directly involved consider it a waste of time and money. The proceedings will continue, largely ignored by the public.

Second thoughts

Something similar is happening in Ontario, that citadel of socialist idealism and political correctness. The Rae government found itself on the horns of a self-created dilemma: satisfy the demands of its public sector unions for pay equity adjustments at a rumoured cost of nearly $700 million, or shut the floodgates of this horrendous drain on its already precarious finances. Pressed by circumstances, it chose the latter course by closing the loophole in the law that might have forced the government to pay wage increases to tens of thousands of female government employees. But it has refused to release the information surrounding this cabinet decision. It insisted that to do so might be "injurious to the financial interests of the government." So much for consistency and openness.

It is a sad commentary on the state of our politics when perverse policies are hidden in a fog of euphemisms and hypocrisy. It is also a sign of the times that simply to point out that the emperor of political correctness and affirmative action has no clothes takes an extraordinary measure of courage and conviction. Interestingly, the most effective criticism has come from women and minority spokespersons themselves. Their comments are often biting.

A Faustian bargain

While we need to judge employment equity policies by their consequences, we must also examine them for their underlying assumptions and beliefs. Here we encounter some strange contradictions.

Society is now steeped in the idea of individual sovereignty. There is no transcendent authority to which we owe allegiance, we are assured. But declaring each individual to be sovereign means that a shared sense of the common good is severely weakened. No society can long endure without a broadly-based moral consensus. To fill the ensuing vacuum, many people are looking to the state as the institution that is able to mastermind (organize) the ideal society.

To put this in other words, as we rely less on people's internal sense of right and wrong based on a higher law, we rely more and more on the power of the state to impose external restraints to enforce the desired behaviour. Those who cherish freedom and know that truth is not of our making, will have no trouble discerning this Faustian bargain for what it really is.

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This article originally appeared in Comment magazine, a journal founded by Harry Antonides. Find all of Harry’s pieces, and thousands more, at http://www.cardus.ca/comment
Index
Biographies
Cardus
Christianity
Economics
Islam
Labour
Miscellaneous
Middle East Politics
Politics -West
Review Articles
Series
What Happens to Truth