During a hearing focused on the problem of high-speed access and affordability, the chairman of Canada's telecom regulator took a moment this week to call out the lack of women on the panels that have appeared to give evidence.
Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), made the remarks on Wednesday to a panel of three men representing the Canadian Cable Systems Alliance at the commission's three-week public proceeding on "basic telecom services."
"Today there was a report issued by Employment and Social Development Canada that found the proportion of women in federally regulated companies has dropped from 46 per cent to 41 per cent in the past 20 years," Mr. Blais said.
"And since we've started this hearing we've faced panels like your own entirely of men. As I say, I'm not picking on you. You're not alone in this. But, you know, and where there have been women on the panels in these telecom proceedings, they don't have speaking roles."
Mr. Blais said that in the fall of 2014, the CRTC held three major hearings at which 125 women appeared.
"We calculated that of the 1.8 million words spoken, only 163,000 words were spoken by women sitting at the witness table. Fourteen per cent."
He said that last year he "called on everyone, including the CRTC, but speaking to government, to the industry and even ourselves, that we can do better."
Mr. Blais said the CRTC strives for gender balance in its staff but noted that it only has two female commissioners – Candice Molnar and Linda Vennard – who were appointed by the federal government. Both of them are sitting on the five-member panel presiding over the basic telecom service review. (There are eight CRTC commissioners in total, including the chairman.)
"In any event, I know there are women in your organizations. So I repeat the call. We can do better," he said.
Chris Edwards, vice-president of regulatory affairs at the CCSA (which represents independent TV providers), said he agreed with the chairman's remarks, but added, "You know, the other thing that you have to balance off is that we are asked to come here with the people who have the expertise to deal with the questions."
Mr. Blais emphasized that he was not singling out the cable industry group but "you just happened to be at the wrong time when this had been a repeated situation."
The CRTC has heard from a range of consumer, public interest and anti-poverty groups at this hearing as well as individuals and representatives from various levels of government, industry bodies and both small and large telecom providers.
When a panel of 11 men representing Telus Corp. appeared on Monday afternoon, Ms. Molnar began her questions by saying, "I don't normally make these comments but it is a bit intimidating for me to look at 10 men in suits, so… I'll be kind with my questions, you be kind with your answers and we'll work together to solutions hopefully."