Kathleen Wynne objects to $14 minimum wage

 27 January 2014

Premier Kathleen Wynne has welcomed recommendations that would increase Ontario’s minimum wage annually by the rate of inflation but is downplaying the notion the $10.25 rate should be boosted dramatically.

The provincial advisory panel’s report released Monday doesn’t address the thorny issue of what today’s rate should be.

The report also recommends businesses get four months notice before any increase takes effect and that the government review the scheme in five years.

“The reason we asked the panel for advice is that we really want to move away from an ad hoc system — or lack of system — of dealing with the minimum wage,” Wynne said Monday in Thornhill before the report came out.

“The panel is going to advise us . . . that we should index the minimum wage to an indicator and we’re going to look at that advice,” the premier said, putting cold water on the bid to dramatically hike the $10.25 hourly rate.

“I know that there’s a call for $14, but we have to move carefully because this is about making sure that we retain and create jobs,” she said.

“At the same time we have to have a system in place that has a fairness to it that . . . has not been the case for many years.”

The minimum wage has increased 50 per cent in Ontario since 2003, from $6.85 to $10.25 per hour, taking it from one of the lowest in Canada to one of the highest. This report will guide our efforts to ensure a fair minimum wage for Ontario’s workers, improve living standards for the most vulnerable and keep businesses competitive.

Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi pointed out in a statement Monday that the “minimum wage has increased 50 per cent in Ontario since 2003, from $6.85 to $10.25 per hour, taking it from one of the lowest in Canada to one of the highest.”

As a doctor, I know too well why the minimum wage needs to rise

Gary Bloch is a family physician with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, a founding member of Health Providers Against Poverty, http://www.healthprovidersagainstpoverty.ca and an expert advisor with EvidenceNetwork.ca

Almost half a million people, representing 9% of Ontario’s workforce, earn minimum wage that has been frozen at $10.25 per hour for four years.

A recent report by the Canadian Medical Association concluded that poverty is the biggest barrier to good health. 

Individuals at the bottom of the income spectrum experience significantly higher rates of disease and premature mortality than those with higher incomes.

Health Providers Against Poverty held a press conference  on January 14th to ask Premier Kathleen Wynne to raise minimum wage to a minimum of $14 per hour. This is the latest in a province-wide campaign to raise the minimum wage.

GARY BLOCH writes in  The Globe and Mail

Published Monday, Jan. 27 2014, 8:24 AM EST

At some point during almost every day in my office, I feel frustrated and powerless. At that moment, I find myself standing with my patient on the edge of a chasm: ill health lies in the crevice below, good health lies on the other side. And we cannot, between us, build the bridge to get across. We know what that bridge looks like, but we do not have the materials to build it.

I have stood at that edge with Fatima, a single mother with two kids in school, who works at Tim Horton’s full time, for minimum wage, at $10.25 an hour. She suffers from low back pain and arthritis. She can barely pay her rent. She has no time to see a chiropractor, to exercise. She can’t afford medications to treat her pain. She often has trouble feeding her family at the end of the month, and eats less herself to make sure her kids get enough.

What she needs to build her bridge is clear: a higher income. She could build it if the minimum wage was set to bring her over the poverty line. That she has to live in this way with a full-time job, in a wealthy country, is a tragedy. That we set our minimum wage to benefit companies’ bottom lines, and not to ensure low-wage workers are able to stay healthy, and to afford the basics of food, shelter, clothing and other necessities, is both a tragedy and a public health travesty.

The health evidence is clear: Fatima and her children are at extremely high risk of developing health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and mental illness, all due to their inadequate income. I cannot prescribe drugs to alleviate that risk.

People such as Fatima who live at low income live shorter lives, with more disability. Their work is more precarious, and they tend to have worse working conditions, that place them at higher risk of illness and injury.

And this is where our elected officials can act like doctors, by bringing an evidence-based approach to improving health and wellbeing to the forefront of their decision-making. In societies with less poverty, and with less inequality, the evidence shows that everyone is healthier, even the well off. Our governments can continue to legislate poverty and ill health, or they can build legislative bridges to a healthier life for everyone.

These bridges are made of policies that ensure a liveable income for everyone in Canada, including a minimum wage that brings workers above the poverty line and social-assistance rates that enable people to pay the rent and eat a basic healthy diet. They are also made of policies that allow people to participate in society and protect their health, such as affordable childcare and universal pharmacare.

And this approach makes economic sense: a 2008 study by the Ontario Association of Food Banks estimated poverty adds over $7 billion to Canadian health-care costs every year. The overall cost of poverty in Canada, to the public and private spheres, is estimated at up to $85 billion per year. Analysts have demonstrated that programs to alleviate poverty can pay for themselves through, for example, increased tax revenues, reduced health costs, lower crime and increased productivity.

Policies that pay for themselves, increase economic output and improve health? These are the prescriptions I’d like to see written. And these are the bridges my patients need built.

Gary Bloch is a family physician with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, a founding member of Health Providers Against Poverty, and an expert advisor with EvidenceNetwork.ca.

Poverty reduction key to fairer, more prosperous Ontario

By: Sarah Blackstock Greg deGroot-Maggetti, Published on Wed Dec 04 20

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Five years ago this week, the Ontario government embarked on a bold and historic challenge to reduce child and family poverty across our province by 25 per cent by 2013. While it appears Ontario will fall short of its “25 in 5” target, the province has made some progress and laid three critical building blocks that should provide the foundation for its next five-year strategy, expected in early 2014.

The first building block was forged in understanding the connection between fairness and economic prosperity. Ontario should take a page from the response to the most recent economic downturn, where a rising consensus emerged – including World Bank economists and finance ministers of all political stripes – that fighting poverty is required to grow our economy.

Ontario’s 2008 maxim that “we need all hands on deck” to drive our province’s recovery rings as true today as it did then. In an increasingly competitive global economy, it is crucial that we maximize the potential of every Ontarian to both participate in and benefit from economic activity. In a time of fiscal challenges, governments must invest in pathways to opportunity or be saddled with rising costs in health care and social services borne of persistent poverty.

Ontario’s second building block against poverty comes from knowing that good intentions alone cannot sustain a long-term commitment to poverty. Clear goals backed up with a comprehensive strategy must be part of the roadmap to progress.

The government’s willingness to set a clear “25 in 5” target in 2008 came with political risk and took courage. While Ontario’s performance was far from perfect, it has led to tangible gains. Ontario’s child poverty rate of 13.8 per cent in 2011, the latest year for which Statistics Canada figures are available, was down from 15.2 per cent in 2008. This means 41,000 fewer children were living in poverty, a reduction of just over 9 per cent in three, economically challenging years.

Different choices would have undoubtedly led to better outcomes, especially for households without children. But substantial early investments in policies like the new Ontario Child Benefit, refundable tax credits for low income people, and minimum wage hikes show that smart social policy works. Or at least as much as you are willing to invest in it.

The next plan must raise the bar. It should seek to cut poverty among all Ontarians in half by 2018, achieving a reduction in the overall poverty rate in Ontario to below 6 per cent and the child poverty rate to below 7.5 per cent.

The third building block for Ontario’s next poverty reduction strategy is building momentum by starting strong.

Five years ago, Ontario did not flinch in the face of a recession. The government immediately accelerated investments in the Ontario Child Benefit. It increased minimum wages when workers needed them most. It moved quickly to entrench poverty reduction into legislation. It invested in community services in priority neighbourhoods. And it revised legislation on worker protections and predatory lending practices within the first year of the plan.

These down payments were critical in achieving initial gains against poverty. They also put real money in the hands of real people to spend in their communities, providing stimulus to a battered economy.

But Ontario has not always carried through with as much vigour as the challenge of poverty requires. Case in point was the 2012 decision to eliminate the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB), a modest fund intended to provide a life-line to Ontarians at risk of homelessness.

As the next five-year blueprint is set to be unveiled early in 2014, it is time for Ontario to raise the bar on poverty reduction, starting with a substantial down payment as a building block for success.

Such a down payment should increase social assistance, the Ontario Child Benefit and the minimum wage, to build on gains from the initial strategy.

Addressing the need for affordable housing is key. As municipalities struggle with the repercussions of the CSUMB cut, Ontario should shore up its commitment to the most vulnerable by making transitional housing and homelessness funding permanent. And the government should also match federal housing funding commitments.

Action to resolve the growing precariousness of jobs is another urgent step to take to achieve fairness while helping to drive the economy.

But so much more needs to be done. The 2008 Poverty Reduction Strategy opened the door for substantive action. It’s now time to act boldly toward eradicating poverty in our province by investing in a prosperity agenda that benefits us all.

Sarah Blackstock of YWCA-Toronto and Greg deGroot-Maggetti of Mennonite Central Committee Ontario represent the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction.