Toronto Star

October 21, 1999

Ottawa feeling pressure on equity decision

Even Liberal MPs join chorus to settle billion-dollar award

By Valerie Lawton
Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA - Opposition MPs, labour groups and even Liberal MPs are calling on the federal government to pay up after losing the latest round in a 16-year pay equity battle.

The government - faced with paying as much as $5 billion to civil servants seeking back pay - says it needs some time to study the court's ruling before deciding whether to appeal again.

The Federal Court Tuesday rejected an appeal of a Human Rights Tribunal decision that ordered Ottawa to pay 13 years of back wages to rectify pay gaps between male and female workers.

Pay equity was high on the agenda when the Liberal caucus met yesterday. Liberal sources said a number of MPs argued that an appeal of the decision would be a political mistake.

Instead, MPs said, the government should negotiate an agreement with the Public Service Alliance of Canada to pay what's owed over a three to five years. That way, the entire budget surplus wouldn't be wiped out.

``I think the court has spoken very strongly in saying: `Justice delayed is justice denied,' and I think we should not be denying people their rights,'' said Quebec Liberal MP Eleni Bakopanos, who supported the Treasury Board's decision last year to appeal to Federal Court.

``We have the financial means to do so . . . I do support asking the government and the minister to respect the decision of the court and to pay.''

But Reformers believe the Federal Court decision should be appealed because the tribunal's assessment is too high. Party Leader Preston Manning accused the federal government of putting promised tax relief at risk by ``bungling'' its handling of the pay equity issue.

``The reality of all of this is that instead of millions of workers getting a pay increase this year because of a tax cut, those workers can now kiss that pay increase goodbye because of a $5 billion bungle by the government,'' Manning said during question period.

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said the government will keep its promise to cut taxes. ``We have a problem there that has to be dealt with, but we will decide how we will do it and when. But the commitment to reduce taxes is a commitment that we intend to keep,'' he told Manning.

With files from Canadian Press

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