Hot! Ontario’s working poor deserve better – Opinion/Editorials – Ontario’s minimum wage hike won’t stretch far – it might cover a weekly bag of milk, a loaf of bread and a couple of apples.
Oct 01 2015.   Editorial

Some 500,000 working Ontarians got a pay hike this week. The minimum wage edged up by a princely 25 cents an hour, to $11.25.

That’s an extra $8.75 a week for those lucky enough to hold down a 35-hour job.

Safe to say the extra cash won’t be splurged on bubbly. It wouldn’t stretch that far. It’ll barely cover a three-litre bag of milk for the kids, a loaf of bread and a couple of apples.

Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government can congratulate itself for “taking the politics out” of hiking the minimum wage by tying it to inflation. That’s good, as far as it goes. But as the Star’s Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports, it’s not enough to boost these workers’ purchasing power. People are working hard, to not get ahead.

That’s because the Wynne government settled on a benchmark wage of $11 that increases would be built on. And that was too low a base. It strands workers below the poverty line.

This raise is a day late and dollar short, as the old saying goes.

A minimum-wage worker in Ontario doing 35 hours a week will now earn just over $20,000 before taxes, well under the $23,000-a-year poverty line.

What would a decent living wage be? Advocates have called for a $15 an hour base, with inflation increases tied to it. As the Star pointed out last year, there’s a conservative case to be made, based on past Liberal policy, for a $12 base by now. By any standard Ontario comes up short.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” says Kaylie Tiessen, an economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Several American jurisdictions are adopting a $15 minimum, she points out. “There is still time for this Ontario government to revisit its own minimum wage and set it against a meaningful benchmark.”

In a recent report Tiessen noted that “an $11 per hour minimum wage falls far short of any suggested bench-mark: productivity gains, the average industrial wage, the living wage, or the poverty line.”

All this should give Wynne, the self-described “social justice” premier, political cover to re-open this issue.

More and more of Ontario’s 7.4-million-strong labour force are working in precarious, low-paying, part-time jobs. They urgently need better protection under Ontario’s outdated regulatory laws.

“The nature of work in Ontario has shifted and so, too, has the workforce,” Sheila Block, a senior economist for the centre, noted in a recent report. The laws “need to be modernized to reflect these shifts in Ontario’s labour market and to bolster workers’ rights.”

There’s been an explosion in minimum-wage earners. In 1997 only one Ontarian in 40 earned the minimum. Today it’s one in eight. More and more are in precarious employment, with unsettled working hours. And it’s getting harder to land full-time jobs.

Left unchecked, this grinding-down of the workforce will hurt Ontario’s long-term economic prospects, hobble provincial revenues and fray our social fabric.

Social justice is one good reason to legislate a living wage. Common sense is another.

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  1. Well said! I could not agree more! There is a serious lack of commitment to social justice in this wage hike. Though it is a step in the right direction, it is not covering much ground at all. As a minimum wage earner myself, I know that this raise will not make even a ripple in the amount of money I’m bringing in, but it does look good in headlines: “Minimum Wage Increasing!”. There is a growing sense of urgency for a more equal economy, a more viable economy for all, and this may serve to hush a few voices, or to settle a few minds. But the truth of the matter remains that, even though it is a step in the right direction, it is nowhere near what is required. As a future Social Worker, if things continue as they are, I can take this to mean that I will have many areas of employment available for me at the time of my graduation. Without a drastic increase in social justice (through policy change and social action), we will face a continued increase in the number of people accessing social assistance programs like food banks and shelters. Another hurdle to top this dilemma off is that we appear to be in a period when residual spending on social services seems to be favored (Bartels, 2015, p.63). Now is a pressing time for Canadians, and we need to stand up together and make some drastic changes. If our leaders do not make move to correct this, it will be upon our shoulders to influence them otherwise. Whilst we still have the freedom to organize publicly, we should do all that we can.

    Bartels, L. (June 24, 2015). The Social Welfare Deficit: Public Opinion, Policy Responsiveness, and Political Inequality in Affluent Democracies. Retrieved from

  2. This particular article gets straight to the point; the minimum wage increase is insufficient to assist the working poor in improving their socio-economic situation. Increasing wages from $11 an hour to $11.25 an hour is a step in the right direction, however it is not a step that will create any positive difference for those working and still living under the poverty line. As stated in the article Ontario’s regulatory laws are outdated and may not be relevant to the increasing number of minimum wage, part-time workers. It is not too encouraging for a family provider to fight for subsidized child care, only to do demanding labour just to put scraps of food on the dinner table. The social belief that hard work will improve your situation is false and misleading. Those living under the poverty line show an increase of health problems including mental health, rising use of social services such as food banks, subsidized care, as well as decreasing their quality of life. The repercussions are a less productive work force, higher health care costs and an increase need for social service resources, which in the end has a higher price tag then increasing minimum wage. Doesn’t it make more sense to increase wages and stimulate the market, as well as increase Canadian’s quality of life, than overlook the need to address the real issue?

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