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The Debate: Raising the Minimum Wage

The debate on the minimum wage is heating up in Ontario and getting greater attention across the country.  Pushed by the recent Ontario government panel to offer advice on adjusting the minimum wage, and regional advocacy efforts to see the rate rise to $14/hr, the conversation is shifting towards one of fairness and actual costs of living.  The Ontario government has agreed to raise the wage to $11/hr does little to appease those for an increase (reflective of the costs of living) or against. Regardless, the pressure to make changes that lift people out of poverty remains.

On January 28th the Ontario Minimum Wage Advisory Panel released their recommendations to the Ontario government.  This was following three months of consultations around the province in the fall of 2013 to better understand the views of Ontarians on what the minimum wage should be and how it should be calculated moving forward.

The result was that the Panel felt they could not give an accurate idea of what the minimum wage should be, but concluded it should be tied to the Ontario Consumer Price Index and revised annually. It was also recommended that a 5 year indepth review be instituted as well.

Responding to the report, the Ontario government agreed to a slight increase of $0.75 which will bring the minimum wage to $11/hr – leaving people earning this rate 16% below the poverty line.  The increase, although much smaller than advocates had hoped, reflects the 6.7% in inflation since the last raise to the rate in 2010.  The Premier, Kathleen Wynne, said she took the impact on business into account when considering the increase.

The current minimum wage in Ontario is $10.25 and was scheduled to be increased in 2010 as part of the provincial poverty strategy, but this was put on hold.  Meanwhile, with an increase in low wage work it was estimated that 40% of individuals above the age of 25 are earning a minimum wage.  The problem:  a full-time minimum wage worker is 21% below the poverty line.

Canada Without Poverty presented to the Panel and called for the minimum wage to be set to a living wage, which would reflect actual costs of living in specific regions and ensure individuals and families could cover a bare bones budget.  Included in this calculation would be the costs of housing, childcare, transportation, clothing, nutritious food, and additional health care costs.  Not included are other important financial considerations such as debt repayment and saving for the future.  What is most amazing about the living wage is that it is a partnership between business and government – the living wage would be adjusted according to social service programs offered by government.  For example, if there was a $10/day child care plan, then the amount of the hourly wage needed would drop.

Another key point is that a living wage is a human right – one that should be recognized by governments in Canada as it falls under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (which Canada ratified in 1976).  CWP Executive Director noted this in herpresentation to the Minimum Wage Panel last November:

“In this context, Canada has been repeatedly told by the UN human rights system that in order to meet its international human rights obligations, it must raise the minimum wage to a living wage.  For example, in 1998, when Canada was reviewed by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – responsible for monitoring Canada’s compliance with the ICESCR – the Committee stated in its Concluding Observations that it was “concerned that the minimum wage is not sufficient to provide an adequate standard of living for a worker and his or her family.” They reiterated this same concern in 2006 noting that the Government had not sufficiently responded to the 1998 concern.  In 2009, after his Mission to Canada, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing recommended that provinces and territories review their minimum wage rates in light of the homelessness problem in Canada.  And, more recently, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food told governments in Canada in his final report that minimum wage must be “at least a living wage” in keeping with Article 6 and7 of the ICESCR, recommending that governments specifically:

… (c) Set the minimum wage as a living wage, as required under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and consistent with ILO Conventions No. 99 (1951) and No. 131 (1970), particularly as regards the requirement that the minimum wage should be fixed taking into consideration, inter alia, “the needs of workers and their families, taking into account the general level of wages in the country, the cost of living, social security benefits, and the relative living standards of other social groups;””

We are not the only ones to bring this idea forward. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and CUPE Ontario are supporters of the minimum wage being a living wage.

This month on a special “Project Money” edition of CBC’s The Current, CCPA’s Trish Hennessey made a point of connecting the minimum wage to a living wage.  The CCPA makes the case to have a $14.50/hr minimum wage, which would be 60% of the average industrial wage.

In CUPE Ontario’s submission to the Panel, they note that the minimum wage should be a living wage at $14/hr and moving forward should reflect increases in the cost of living. On their website the union quotes Janice Folk-Dawson who is chair of CUPE Ontario’s University Workers’ Coordinating Committee:

“This is an equality issue. Minimum wage earners are disproportionately women, racialized workers, people with disabilities and new immigrants,” she said. “They are also the people doing difficult, front line service jobs like cleaners, food service workers, the child care workers who look after our kids, the personal support workers who look after our aging parents, and the social service workers who support people with developmental disabilities.”

Ontario has an opportunity to lead the country in terms of minimum wage policy. They will now tie with Nunavut as the province/territory with the highest minimum wage at $11/hr (Alberta has the lowest at $9.95/hr), but remember, this is still well below the poverty line.

As governments and business continue to debate the issue it would be prudent to consider the workers who earn this wage and the impact this has on their life and families.  It is not just about a number, it is about people.

*Updated January 28th, 2014

Reposted with permission.
Canada Without Poverty 


College Fad to Global Trend: Happy Birthday Facebook!

Can you believe that Facebook turns 10 today? Even if you aren’t one of its 1.6 billion users, a figure cited by CBC, no doubt you’ve heard of Facebook. In its Saturday edition, the Toronto Star’s entertainment section featured, “10 Years of Friending” by Raju Mudhar. The article points out that “Canadians are the most active users of [Facebook] in the world. He notes:  “Facebook’s most fundamental achievement is that it has indeed made us more connected….reducing the old six degrees of separation. In 2010, Facebook researchers found that it was actually 4.74 degrees and likely getting lower as more people joined the 1.2 users on the site.”

Western Astrology states, “Aquarians are quick to engage others … which is why they have so many friends and acquaintances. Making the world a better place is a collaborative effort for Aquarians.”

One could say that Facebook is a true Aquarian.

Nancy Wales, CSJ


Weekly Pause & Ponder

“The universe shows the holy Oneness of Being. This is our home. We might even say, this is who we are.  All of us are this one being. We human beings are supported by everything the universe does with its various interactions that make the galaxies in their clusters and the stars in their attendant planets, some of which have the right conditions for biochemistry, which evolves to the point of self-consciousness and knowledge of all these universe interactions. When we are conscious and knowing, it’s the universe that is conscious and knowing. And our consciousness and our knowing are still working in the same pattern: diversifying, interacting, unifying. We are not alien or strange or different. We are the universe’s own.”

God’s Ecstacy:The Creation of a Self-Creating World p. 15, by Beatrice Bruteau.


The Government’s Rhetoric About Bogus Refugees is Bogus  

It was remarkable and most disheartening to watch the spat between federal Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews last week. The bone of contention was Ontario’s decision to step in and provide health care for those refugee claimants who have been cut off of coverage under the federal government’s longstanding refugee health care program.

The federal government announced the cuts almost two years ago. The motivation was clearly punitive. They hoped that by cutting back on health care coverage some refugee claimants would be dissuaded from coming to Canada to make claims. Fundamental, internationally-enshrined human rights are at stake, including the rights to access health care, to be free from discrimination and to be protected as a refugee. Instead, the government had decided to play politics with health care; health care for a particularly vulnerable group in society.

The federal cuts meant that all refugee claimants were cut off from coverage for medication, vision and dental care. But more extreme, claimants coming from one of the so-called “safe” countries of origin designated by the government are ineligible for any health care coverage, even in urgent, life-threatening situations. They only receive treatment if they pose a public health risk to others. 37 countries are on that designated list, including Mexico which Amnesty International has repeatedly highlighted is facing a spiraling human rights crisis, and various Central European countries where the Roma community faces widespread discrimination and frequent violence.

Minister Matthews said that Ontario could not and would not sit and watch as people lawfully in the province, with pressing health care needs, were made to suffer. She was following several other provinces that have already taken that step.

It might have been nice to hear Minister Alexander sheepishly thank Ontario for stepping up and fulfilling Canada’s international human rights obligations. Okay, that is expecting a bit much. But surely she did not deserve to be lambasted for intruding into federal jurisdiction (conveniently overlooking that while the federal government is responsible for immigrants and refugees, health care is explicitly a provincial constitutional power) and interfering with the government’s agenda to deter “bogus” refugees.

How galling, once again, to see our highest officials using the crass and hurtful rhetoric of bogus refugees as a basis for Canadian law and policy.  We must call out the Minister, and must call out any and all public officials, when they use this inflammatory term, bogus, to talk about refugees. It gets bandied about as if it has some sort of precise legal definition; which it does not.  It does not appear in any legislation or any international treaty. 

Since it has no real meaning, what does the Minister mean when he uses it? Refugee claimants the government doesn’t like? Coming from countries the Minister wishes they wouldn’t leave? Whose claims get rejected?  Rejected on what basis? Because they weren’t believed? Because their problems, though genuine, don’t fit the legal technicalities of the refugee definition?  Because a decision-maker was not prepared to agree that human rights problems are real and serious in their country? Because they are a war criminal and thus, while having a valid fear of persecution, are not eligible for refugee status? Because conditions back home have changed since they left? Or because they couldn’t come up with enough documents to prove their story?

On and on this list of possible scenarios could go. That is because there are so many twists and turns along the refugee journey; so many twists and turns in what is, after all, a human journey. To somehow crassly sum up all those who don’t get refugee status in the end as being ‘bogus’ is unfair, pejorative and plain wrong.  To see it then used further to justify measures like health care cuts, which violate rights, is a disgrace.  It is clearly used in an effort to undermine public sympathy for refugees. What of the days when public officials instead, sought to foster compassion and understanding. Derisive and mean-spirited refugee politics have to stop.

Provincial governments are shaming the federal government by righting this wrong and ensuring health care is in place. A legal challenge is also underway, meaning that the Courts will soon have their say. Health professionals have been vocal in their opposition, with all of the major Canadian medical organizations now having called on the federal government to reverse the cutbacks.

Rights are at stake.  That can’t be justified by a desire to save money. It can’t be justified by a policy of deterring refugees from coming to Canada.  It certainly can’t be justified by dismissively asserting that those whose rights are being violated are bogus and thus of no concern. 

When rights are at stake there is only one course of action. Uphold the rights. And you can write to the Minister right now, demanding that he do just that:


Guest Blogger: Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada



Welcome to our new on-line home! 

Welcome to our new online home! We have an exciting story to tell!

We are a brand new Congregation. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Hamilton, London, Peterborough and Pembroke recently amalgamated to form the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada.

As a new Congregation we will continue to remain open to the inspiration that has brought us all to this point, to live out our lives authentically in the world today. We want to add our voice of hope to that of others as we live into the growth and challenges that will unfold. In particular, we want to seed the future with the original vision of our first founding, to help create a more inclusive, respectful and just world. In doing so, we want to join with others in shaping that world.

The world of social media offers us a place to connect with you, to explore questions with you, to learn together with you.

We are excited about the potential of engaging people locally and internationally in the important work of justice awareness at every level - environmental preservation, human trafficking prevention, poverty reduction and development of an inclusive economy.

One of the features we are most excited about is the bi-weekly blog posts. We hope our blogs will be interesting and provocative in conversations that matter. Please plan to join us in the ongoing dialogue.

The real work of this time in our history is for each of us, personally, and as a group or community to seek a transformation in which we hold together both spirituality and justice.

We believe that by collaborating with others we can all make a difference.  We believe that so many of us, in the midst of busy and complex lives, do want to nudge the world in the direction of relationships where everyone is included.

We welcome you to our new website,
The CSJ Website Committee

An impressive and important step as we move together into this new moment. Kudos and thanks to all those involved in the set up and management of our new website for the amalgamated Congregation.

I look forward to continued and deepening engagement with all those whose 'care of the world' reflects its goodness and their own.

Veronica O’Reilly, CSJ
Congregational Leader
Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada




Copyright 2013. Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada.