Lise Béland was born in Gogama, a village of 450 in the wilds of Northern Ontario, 120 miles north of Sudbury.
The nearest grocery store, at that time, was 75 miles away. Her family was poor and her mother told her at an early age she would not be going to university.
In fact, she took her first job when she was still in Grade 1 helping her grandfather, who was custodian at the local school.
“I cleaned blackboards, emptied the garbage from waste baskets and did vacuuming on the weekends,” she said.
But Beland, guest speaker at Paddy Torsney’s annual International Women’s Day breakfast, had plenty of drive and set out on her own to attend a community college in Timmins, then moved on to Cambrian College in Sudbury.
“When I saw the bright lights of Timmins, I was amazed,” she said. “And when I got to Sudbury, I thought I was in Gay Paree!”
She later contradicted her mother’s words by going to school at the University of Fredericton and obtaining her MBA.
Now, 50 years after she worked for her grandfather, she is Vice-President (Southwestern Ontario) of College Boreal, a francophone College of Applied Arts and Technology, and making in excess of $100,000 annually.
Furthermore with pay equity legislation in effect in Ontario, her salary matches that of male colleagues who do similar work.
Money set aside in the recently unveiled federal budget is aimed at improving things for women and encouraging them to pursue traditionallly male dominated jobs like carpentry.
“Our government plans to address the gender wage gap by shining a light on pay practices in the federally regulated sector and moving forward with a proactive pay equity regime that will be tabled later this fall,” said Burlington MP Karina Gould.
Gould said provincial pay equity legislation is complaint-driven. In other words, the worker has to take the employer to court to get a raise.
The proposed federal legislation will put the onus on employers to pay the same for jobs of equal value.
A recent survey showed that, in yearly earnings, women working full-time in Canada still earned 74.2 cents for every dollar that full-time male workers made.
Women also are far more likely to hold part-time jobs; almost 19 per cent of female workers are part-time, versus five per cent of men.
The Canadian government, however, hasn’t yet gone as far as Iceland, which now fines businesses who fail to institute pay equity measures.
Torsney, who was MP for Burlington from 1993 to 2006, said the wage rate at which women start out their working careers is the key to their longterm success.
“They have to negotiate a good one the first time, plus raises based on performance,” she said.
Halton Region Chari Gary Carr said the Region has been implementing pay equity over the last 10 years.
“We have about 100 public health nurses, who are paid well over the average,” Carr said. “Both our Medical Officer of Health and Deputy Medical Officer of Health are women.”
In fact, Medical Officer of Health Hamidah Meghani earned $371,071.39 and benefits totalling $1,104.48 in 2017.
Several prominent women also passed along tips during a Women In Government workshop, led by Burlington Councillor Blair Lancaster.
Burlington MPP Eleanor McMahon, now President of the Treasury Board in the cabinet of Premier Kathleen Wynne, said the sudden death of her husband in an accident became a call to service for her and helped her channel her grief.
“That was the worst day of my life, but it has turned into some remarkable moments for me,” she said.
Danielle Manton, manager of committee and election services for the City of Burlington, said in every job she’s had she eventually felt stuck in a box and unchallenged.
“Whenever I’ve felt that way, I’ve asked for more,” she said. “I encourage you to ask for more.”
Rebecca MacKay, a graduate of Notre Dame secondary school, got her foot in the door at City Hall by volunteering at the 2009 municipal election. Now she has a full-time job as Lancaster’s assistant.
Oakville North-Burlington MP Pam Damoff summed up the challenge facing women in running for office and urged them not to by shy about doing it.
“Women have to be asked 13 times to run,” she said. “Men just once, and they do it.”