We Can All Succeed: Toward Gender Equality in Canada


Speech by the Honourable Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance, at the iW50 Summit

Check against delivery

Thank you for that kind introduction. 

I am so happy to be here with all of you today. 

To celebrate 50 years of women at INSEAD, and also to share with you some of my own experiences—and some of Canada’s experiences—when it comes to advancing gender equality.

As you might know, I now serve as Canada’s Minister of Finance, a role I took on after a long and successful career in the private sector. 

It’s a tremendous responsibility, and it’s one that I cherish and really do look forward to every single day.

But if I had to pick just one thing that I have done in my life—one thing that has been the most rewarding, that I think will leave the biggest mark long after I’m gone—it’s being a father.

In fact, it was back home, in our house in Toronto a few months ago, when I saw a new poster hanging over my daughter’s bed.

It was a quote from Malala Yousafzai, and it said, in bold letters: We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.

Seeing that, and realizing what it meant, made such a strong impression on me that I actually told this story as part of this year’s budget speech.

We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. 

That moment stayed with me because it was suddenly so obvious.

My daughter gets it. Her friends get it. The young women I’ve met all across Canada—including in the neighbourhoods I represent in Toronto—they all get it.

It’s up to the rest of us to catch up.

Think about it. You’re all leaders. Imagine that there is something that arbitrarily holds back half the people in your organization.  That makes it difficult for them to succeed, and realize their full potential. 

What’s your response going to be?

Are you just going to shrug and say, “Well, it’s only half the people … or maybe not even half …”?

Or are you going to tackle the challenge head on?

There really is only one responsible answer, and that’s to say, “Enough is enough.”

As leaders in education, in business, and in politics, it is our job to create the conditions that allow everyone to succeed.

That’s the message that Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Davos this year.

When he called on business leaders to hire, promote, and retain more women, he was unambiguous.

It’s something we need to do “not just because it’s the right thing to do, or the nice thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do.”

Greater equality leads to more effective decision-making.

I’ve seen this first-hand in my time in government. 

Our Cabinet is stronger, the government is stronger, and Canadians are better served because half of the people around the Cabinet table are strong, intelligent, effective women.

Greater equality also delivers stronger economic growth. 

This is true historically: in Canada, over the last 40 years, the rising number of women in the workforce has accounted for about a third of our real gross domestic product per capita growth.

More recently, RBC Economics has estimated that if Canada had a completely equal representation of women and men in our workforce, we could have increased the size of our economy by 4 per cent last year.

I’ll tell you as the Minister of Finance—that’s not the kind of growth you want to leave on the table.

But greater equality doesn’t only mean better growth for governments. It’s true for businesses, too.

According to the Centre for International Governance Innovation, just a 1 per cent increase in gender diversity can deliver a 3.5 per cent bump in revenues for those companies that hire more women.

And for businesses that have women in leadership positions, the results are even stronger.

For all of these reasons, when it came time to craft this year’s federal budget, it made sense to us that equality should be its central theme.

It’s a budget that includes many measures aimed at advancing the interests of Canada’s women and girls—from our plan to move forward with pay equity in federally regulated sectors, to greater support for women entrepreneurs, to a new parental sharing benefit designed to encourage both parents in two-parent families to share more equally in the work of raising their children.

But with this year’s budget, we wanted to do more than just make individual commitments.

That’s why we decided to move forward with a new, more comprehensive approach, one that includes gender budgeting and a new Gender Results Framework—a set of goals and indicators to track how Canada is performing and to help define what is needed to achieve greater equality. 

Governments around the world have seen that when you think about how policies affect women and men differently, you end up with better public policy, and better results for citizens.

There’s a famous example from Sweden, which found that after a snowfall, pedestrians—often women—were more negatively affected by ice and snow on the ground than motorists. So they allocated more funds toward clearing pedestrian pathways.

In South Korea, they narrowed the gap in restroom waiting times by building more public toilets for women. It might seem like a little thing. I am assured by every woman in my life that it is not.

And so for a country like Canada, where we value equality and evidence, where we have committed ourselves to doing more to help women and girls succeed, it made sense to make gender budgeting a part of this year’s budget and every future one, too. 

That’s why in Budget 2018, every budget decision was informed by Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+). And to ensure that gender remains a key consideration for future governments, we committed to introduce legislation to make gender budgeting a permanent part of the federal budget-making process.

In essence, we are saying that we will not make funding decisions going forward without first considering the impact that decision will have on women. 

For us—and, I think, for many others—applying this gender lens when building budgets is, once again, the right thing to do, and the smart thing to do.

You might have heard that at the recent G7 meetings, Canada—along with the European Union, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the World Bank—announced an investment of close to $3.8 billion to help give women and girls around the world equal access to education.

It represented the single largest investment in education for women and girls in crisis and conflict situations, with the potential to make a difference in the lives of millions of the world’s most vulnerable people.

That’s what can happen when we commit ourselves to making sure we can all succeed.

We make the world a better place. A more equal, more prosperous, more peaceful place.

I’d like to leave you with a story about another moment that touched me greatly. 

It took place at the unveiling of Canada’s new $10 bill, which will feature Viola Desmond, a human rights icon who challenged the practice of racial segregation in her home province of Nova Scotia.

It was at the unveiling that I had the privilege to meet Viola’s sister, Wanda, a force in her own right.

To give you some context, Wanda graduated from Cape Breton University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2004 … at the age of 76.

But on that day, what stood out was how proud Wanda was of her sister—how unbelievable it was to her that her big sister would be forever recognized as the first woman—a black woman—on a Canadian banknote.

And also there that day were dozens of young girls who had been invited to be part of the announcement.

Young girls who would grow up with constant reminders—right there on the $10 bill—of how important they are to their communities, and to their country.

Like my own daughters, they will grow up knowing that they matter. That they can succeed. And that nothing—whether it’s an indifferent employer or an outdated policy—should ever hold them back.

And so I challenge you, in your roles, to think about what you can do to make the world a more equal place, a more welcoming place for women and girls.

I’ve recently signed up to be an International Gender Champion, a growing network of senior leaders and decision-makers determined to break down gender barriers and make gender equality a working reality in their spheres of influence.

I would encourage you to look at the commitments that go along with that role. Among others, I’ve agreed that I will no longer participate on panels that don’t include at least one woman. And ideally, a lot more than just one.

One thing I can promise you from my own experience is that you will never regret taking steps to empower more women in your workplace, and in your lives. 

INSEAD is a better school because of the change that happened here 50 years ago.

Canada is a better country because we are continuously looking for new ways to give everyone a real and fair chance at success.

And the world will be a better place when we all step up, and do our part to help make gender equality a reality.

We can all succeed. So let’s get to it. 

Thank you.

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: