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Inequalities are human-created evils. The selfishness and greed of economic elites of many countries are driving them to ignore the basic rights and needs of others. The economic elite must recognize the fact that there is no validity in their claim to the bulk of global wealth as there is no dearth of resources on our planet. Buckminster Fuller in his book ‘The Critical Path’ shows clearly that the planet’s resources are still so abundant to indicate that famine, hunger, and poverty are artificial conditions imposed on humanity unnecessarily. (Fuller, Buckminster) The bulk of humanity prefers to live simple peaceful lives. Instead, they are made to face inequalities because of the political backlash of a small minority of the economic elite around the world.
Canada is the largest country in the world enriched with vast resources of forest, minerals, uranium, oil, hydroelectric power, and others. People of the third world expect the streets of Canada to be paved with gold because of Canada’s thin population. Then why the question of inequality in respect of Canada is being debated? Why Canadian Human Rights Commission is concerned with the problem of discrimination based on race, national, or ethnic origin, color, religion, sex, and on other issues. That means the concept of ‘equal opportunity is not being fairly practiced in Canada. True Canadians will not digest this. Their belief that the concept of ‘equal opportunities for all is the real strength of Canada will get hurt. Whether Canada is an equal opportunity state or the propaganda of equality, is simply a myth. This study makes an analysis to unveil the reality.
The claim is that Canada ranks first among G-7 countries in providing equal opportunities to its inhabitants. The legal framework has established a stage for equal opportunities for all participants of economic growth, but ground realities are different. The major constituents of Canada’s population are immigrants with different ethnic and racial backgrounds/ characteristics. The uncertain and fluctuating economic scenario has created and magnified ethnic/ racial prejudices as forces influencing inequalities.
The degree to which ethnicity/ racial and socio-economic inequalities are related is not the key issue. The issue is the ways in which ethnic/ racial factors play out in socio-economic outcomes. The result is an increase in creeping dormant unemployment or underemployment. The fact is that in most cities of Canada highly technical qualified immigrants (Doctors, Engineers, and Accountants, etc.), who have reached Canada seeking a brighter future in their respective fields, are now driving taxies or doing activities unrelated to their professions. Degrees of their qualifications are not recognized for reasons better known to Canadian authorities. As the result, qualified immigrants are leading a life in Canada as second-class citizens. The Canadian objective of seeking qualified immigrants has failed miserably on this ground, and this shows the existence of persistent unequal opportunities in Canadian society. A very limited section of Canadian society is controlling the abundant economic and social resources. Others are merely second or third fiddle players in the operation of the economy. These facts force us to examine even the declared status of Canada as the most ‘equal opportunity’ state among G 7 countries. Is this claim of ‘equal opportunity’ state a reality or a myth?
Legal Status with regard to equalities
‘Equal opportunity’ implies an absence of discrimination in treating people on basis of their race, age, religion, sex, color, mental or physical disability, or on other grounds. Legally Canada has equipped itself efficiently to provide equal opportunities. Sound infrastructural facilities exist for the administration to prevent inequalities sneaking into its system.
Under Canadian Human Rights Act, it is against the law for any employer or provider of service within federal jurisdiction to make discriminations based on race, age, religion, sex, color, and other factors. Employers are not only legally bound to provide equal opportunities but also required to advertise it prominently while making recruitments. The legal status with regard to the provision of equal opportunity rights is very strong and clear as depicted hereunder:
1. The constitution of Canada provides equality in unambiguous terms. Section 28 of Chapter I of Schedule B of Constitution Act, 1982 reads: “Notwithstanding any thing in this chapter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons” Section 15(1) of the said Charter further states that, “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability”. (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) Also, Part II of the said Act in section 35(4) while explaining the rights of aboriginal people of Canada has clearly stated that aboriginal and treaty rights are also guaranteed equally to male and female persons. On basis of such statutory provisions, it can be argued that the federal state of Canada provides equal opportunity to its inhabitants.
2. Canadian Human Rights Act and Employment Equity Act provide the necessary legal infrastructure to practice the principle of equal opportunity. Canadian Human Rights Commission ensures that the principle of equal opportunity and non-discrimination being practiced in all areas of federal jurisdiction by administering the ‘Human Rights Act and ensuring compliance with ‘Employment Equity Act.
3. The federal Employment Equity Act promotes federally regulated workplaces and equal representation for women, aboriginal people, disabled persons, and visible minorities persons. The act embodies strict responsibilities and obligations on part of employers with regard to equal opportunities for all. In this concern the act
- “Clarifies existing employer obligations to implement employment equity without imposing overly onerous obligations
- Establishes the same requirements for public and private sector employers for developing and implementing employment equity plans and programs.
- Clarifies that implementing employment equity does not require quotas, measures that cause undue hardships for an employer, the creation of new positions, the hiring and promotion of unqualified individuals, or hiring or promotion without regard for merit principle in the public sector.” (Human Resources and Social Development Canada)
4. The Canadian Human Rights Act deals with discriminatory behaviors creating barriers in the practice of the virtue of ‘equal opportunity’ at different stages of human interactions. Such behaviors may be a sort of differential treatment of an individual or a group of individuals, a form of harassment, systematic discrimination (like a neutral policy or practice of discrimination), or a sort of retaliation.
A nation’s socio-economic model, which reflects underlying ideologies determined by a specific class, contains the seeds of inequality. Policymakers are bound to uphold ruling class interests, and that is why they inevitably fail to serve the interest of the entire population. Socio-economic factors that affect equal opportunism are inequalities of income, education, and health of the population of a country. In the Canadian context the effect of these factors on the concept of ‘equal opportunity’ is analyzed hereunder:
Income remains unequal among different sections of society everywhere in the world. There are numerous reasons for such inequalities in income and lack of opportunity to earn money is one of those reasons. In Canadian society, the presence of immigrants is a dominant factor in its economic setup. When this large stratum of the population lacks the ability to earn, then inequality in opportunities is the straightforward reason attributable to such inabilities of immigrants. Canada is a land of a range of vibrant opportunities, but it has not been unable to provide equitable distribution of opportunities among different sections of its society in order to earn an income. The following facts stand proof to such reasoning:
‘Low-income trends among the population as a whole tend to mask an underlying divide that has opened up between the Canadian- born and immigrants to Canada. In 1980, the earnings of recent male immigrants working full time, full year were 84% of comparable Canadian- born workers. By 2000, however, recent male immigrants were earning only 60% of their Canadian- born counterparts.(Frenette and Morisssette) and similar patterns are observed for women’ (Garnett Picot and John Myles).
“While incomes amongst richest 20% of families were rising by 10%, total income stagnated among the poorest 20% of families between 1990 and 2000. The result was moderate increase in family income inequality in Canada.” (The Daily, 2005).
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Responsibility for education in Canada primarily lies with provincial governments. On a governmental level, a number of strategies and programs are planned and run to provide educational opportunities to all. Some of the steps and measures are taken in this regard are as under:
1. The federal government has prepared an educational strategy in consultation with these provincial governments. The basic objectives of this strategy are:
- To improve women’s access to lifelong learning.
- To support women’s participation in the field of science and technology.
- To develop appropriate training material and programs for women.
- To increase accessibility to post-secondary education for persons with dependents and those with disabilities.
2. The Canada Study Grant program provides grants to up to $ 3000 female students pursuing Ph.D. studies where women are traditionally under-represented.
3. The Canada Students Loans Program allows loans for childcare to women students under both full-time and part-time studies. (Women and Education and Training)
That shows that on a governmental level every effort is made either by organizing some program or by providing funds in order to care for equal opportunities in the field of education. An educated society is the backbone of any nation and Canada has realized this pretty well. Secondary education is available to all those who need it to strengthen their abilities to exploit more economic opportunities in the future.
In a research conducted to analyze some key national and international issues, it was assessed that ‘the equality of access to educational opportunities has increased greatly in recent decades and is high from an international perspective. Indeed, according to OECD data, Canada has the highest enrollment rate in post secondary educational institutions in OECD.’ (Andrew Sharpe). The research further concluded that, ‘The federal government has taken a number of measures to increase the affordability post secondary education through the establishment of a Millennium Scholarship Fund and the enrichment of the Registered Education Saving Plan (RESPs), including the Canada Education Saving Grant.’
Largely, secondary education is the state’s responsibility. In order to study the disparities in opportunities, one has to make the real test of the existing status of Post Secondary Education (PSE). In this regard, key findings of a study published by the Canada Millennium Scholarship foundation provide an interesting point of view. The study entitled ‘The Price of Knowledge’ reveals in brief as under:
‘Average undergraduate university tuition fee rose by 76% through the 1990s, or by 6% a year, in inflation adjusted dollars. Government transfers to individual for PSE increased by 68% over the past decade. The Government of Canada spends roughly as much annually on non-need based financial transfers to individual as it does on mean- tested, need based student financial aid’ (Millennium Scholarships, 2002). This indicates that the government in Canada is adamant to remove disparities and provide equal opportunities to all on the education front. That concludes that present PST status is capable to provide equal opportunities to all participants. So both on secondary and post-secondary education fronts noticeable practices of inequalities are not possible.
Overall, the picture on the education front is very bright. The Canadian government is making every effort to plug the inequalities to make sure that at least education-wise equal opportunities are provided to all sections of the society.
As in other societies, social and economic factors strongly influence the health of Canadians, and to bring about a change such factors need to be modified by a suitable socio-economic policy. In any society, ‘People are healthiest when they live in a society that can afford to meet everybody’s basic needs. Once basic needs are met, people’s health is also affected by how big a difference there is between the richest and poorest members of society. When there are big differences in income in a society, there are also big differences in social status. This affects health because people with lower status have less control over their lives and fewer choices for themselves.’
Prince Edward Island’s observance confirms that issue of health is directly related to the affluence and status of the individual. That means in Canada opportunities in matters of health are directly connected with existing inequality of income among the inhabitants. Inequalities in income are the result of certain social/or cultural reasons. The result of income inequalities on the health of citizens in Canada is indicated by:
- Unequal access to health care;
- Use of health services;
- Treatment by medical providers;
- Distribution of health services according to need;
- Expenditures for different groups.
When income inequalities are big, the people at lower strata are bound to get fewer opportunities in health matters. Societies with a greater gap between rich and poor may have poorer overall health. Canada appears to have all such attributes that indicate unequal opportunities in a matter of health. However, the Canadian government has taken concrete steps and cares repeatedly to remove the disparities present in respect of health services as is clear from the following initiatives:
- ‘The 2002 and 2003 First Ministers’ Health Accords have made national commitments to reducing health disparities.
- Ministers of Health have approved the strategic framework of the Healthy Living Strategy, establishing the reduction of health disparities as one of its two goals.’ (Population Health) Though the approach of government and allied agencies is positive with regard to health, certain improvements are needed before we realize that equality is not a myth in this very important social field of health.
The ‘Equal opportunity’ concept is a virtue to be practiced. The mere formulation of laws and regulations does not bring inequalities among the citizen of a nation. Canada is a great country that has shown the world that the equal opportunity concept is not a concept merely on papers, but its practical approach certainly brings results to earn laurels at international platforms. Canada may not be successful in bringing equality of opportunism in all areas of human interactions. Offering equal opportunities to earn an income is a teething task as there are so many other factors that influence an individual’s abilities to earn. One of those factors is education. Canada is quite successful in controlling inequalities of opportunities in the field of education. It will take some time when the education factor will start showing its effects on the income-earning abilities of its citizens. Health is a matter of great concern because of its direct dependence on income factors. Canada’s preparation of an infrastructure framework is indeed commendable as at least a platform is available to practice equalities, and this is not a myth. Success has started showing results in fields like education, and this is real. Time takes its own course and with the combined efforts of state authorities and its inhabitants, Canada is bound to convert the legal framework of equality into a reality. Canadian efforts are remarkable in this regard.
- Andrew Sharpe, Federal Budgets and Inequality in Canada, Research Project: Canada Watch, Web.
- Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I, Schedule B, Constitution Act, 1982
- Fuller, Buckminster, The Critical Path. New York St. Martin Press, 1981.
- Frenette, M. and R. Morissette. 2003. “Will they ever converge? Earnings and Immigrants and Canadian- born Workers Over the Last Two Decades.” Analytical Study Research Paper Series 11F0019MIE2003215. Analytical Studies Branch. Ottawa: Statistics, Canada.
- Garnett Picot and John Myles. 2005, “Income Inequality and Low Income in Canada: An International Perspective”
- Government of Prince Edward Island. A Framework for Health Promotion. Charlottetown, PEI; 1999. P. 2
- Human Resources and Social Development Canada, Key Elements of Employment Equity Act and Regulations.
- Millennium Scholarships, 2002, ‘ Major report on post- secondary education reveals disparities in equalities of access in Canada’, Web.
- Population Health, Reducing Health Disparities- Roles of the Health Sector: Discussion Paper.
- The Daily,2005, Study: Trends in Income Inequality in Canada from an International Perspective
- Women and Education and Training