Jan. 05, 2005 - Issue #481: Best of 2004
The fear of wages
Earlier this week, Ontario Labour Minister Chris Bentley announced that his government will increase the province’s minimum wage by 50 cents to $7.45 an hour on February 1. It’s the second time in as many years that the Ontario government had given a raise to the 400,000 residents who earn the least amount of money allowed by law—last year, the minimum wage went up by 30 cents. And the Ontario government doesn’t plan to stop there, also announcing that the wage will be further raised to $7.75 by February 2006 and $8.00 by February 2007. So what’s with all the generosity? Has Ontario suddenly struck it rich? As Minister Bentley went on to explain in an interview with the Canadian Press, there was no windfall behind this initiative—just a desire to see Ontario’s wealth more evenly shared. “For nine years, the province of Ontario enjoyed prosperity, but the most vulnerable got nothing,” he said. “We changed that last year, and now for the second year in a row we’re increasing it again.”
It’s an interesting theory, isn’t it? That a province that claims prosperity should make some sort of effort to increase the quality of life for its most impoverished working class? Seems almost noble, really... and it makes you wonder just why the Alberta government, which is equally as disposed to flaunting its alleged “advantage,” particularly during election times, seems so resistant to doing the very same thing.
Over the past few years, minimum wages have gone up in almost every province besides Alberta; even Newfoundland—Newfoundland, the poorest province in the dominion—has found it in its heart to raise the wage to $6.50. The average minimum wage across Canada is $7.00 an hour; in Alberta, in case you don’t know, it’s a downright embarrassing $5.90. Less than $1,000 per month if you’re working full-time. This, apparently, is what our provincial government considers to be a livable wage in Alberta, the richest province in the country; and every time some other province hikes up its minimum, ours becomes all the more humiliating.
Every year that the Alberta government chooses to ignore this fact is another year that the gap between the cost of living and the minimum wage grows wider, and soon the gap will become too wide to bridge. And at that point, it’s no longer merely a case of a government sitting on its hands; rather, more grimly, it becomes a matter of a government purposefully choosing to impoverish its own people. V
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