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February 22, 2002

B.C. women's groups call for Minister's resignation

Pay inequality exists because women choose to work part time: MLA: Equality portfolio

Ian Bailey
National Post

The Vancouver Sun
Lynn Stephens, B.C.'s Minister of State for Women's Equality, has outraged women's groups by blaming women for the fact they earn less because they choose to work part time. "That's a choice they have made."

VANCOUVER - The minister representing women's issues in the British Columbia Cabinet is being urged to resign over comments that include blaming women for inequality between the sexes.

Women's groups say they will not be able to work with Lynn Stephens, who said, among other things, that, "A single man and a single woman have exactly the same opportunities, with the same education."

The Minister's comments "fly in the face of the facts of the economic and social situation that women face today so she can't do her job," said Joy MacPhail, one of two New Democrats in the Liberal-dominated legislature.

"The overriding theme [of her comments] is that women find themselves in a position of economic inequality by their own choice," Ms. MacPhail said.

"That shows how wrong, ill- informed and inappropriate Ms. Stephens is for advocating for women at the Cabinet table."

The Minister of State for Women's Equality made the comments in an interview with The Langley Advance News, the bi-weekly newspaper in the suburb south of Vancouver that she represents in the B.C. legislature.

Ms. Stephens demanded an apology yesterday for the paper's story.

Bob Groeneveld, the Advance editor, rejected the request, insisting he would stand by the story.

Ms. Stephens is a former businesswoman and realtor who was first elected to the legislature in 1991 and re-elected in 1996 and 2001. Before the Liberals came to power eight months ago, she held critic roles for the opposition that included women's equality.

In her interview in Tuesday's edition of the Advance, Ms. Stephens said the disparity between men's and women's average pay exists because women want to work part-time. "That's a choice they have made," she said. "People make choices. This government is not about to say you can do this, but can't do that. From choices flows everything else. You are free to work where you wish, for whatever you wish; you are free to live where you want."

Statistics Canada reported last year that women working full-time earned only 72.5 for every $1 a man earned -- an amount that had increased by only 1 in the previous five years.

When women working part time were taken into account, the wage gap was even greater. Women working part time made only 64 for every $1 working men earned.

Ms. Stephens also said she is not phased by the fact that Liberal tax cuts, instituted on their first full day in power last June, hit the poor harder than the rich.

The "rich get richer and the poor get poorer," she is quoted as saying, adding: "That's the world we live in, the world we've always lived in." The best solution, Ms. Stephens said, is, "Make more money."

Jane Bouey, a member of the national executive for the National Action Committee for the Status of Women, said the comments had left her speechless, and called for Ms. Stephens to leave her post.

"We've always tried to keep an open dialogue with her," she said. "In a number of conversations I have had with her, she never gave me the impression these were her views. It will make it much more difficult for people in the province to see her representing our views in Cabinet."

Debra Critchley, spokeswoman for the B.C. Coalition of Women's Centres, said the Minister had alienated her key constituency. "There's nothing left for her to do but step down."

Ms. Stephens did not return a telephone call from the National Post seeking comment on her remarks.

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