It’s a new year and I have all sorts of ideas and hopes going around in my head so why not get some clarity by sharing a few of these out there. Maybe because I’m interested or maybe its just coincidental; I’ve been reading about the rise in minimum wage; guaranteed income pilots, poverty reduction actions, truth and reconciliation; I’m talking about real policies and change that could help eliminate poverty in Canada.
All the while I’m thinking – what about Tobermory, my own community at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula? I know its winter and we are shut down so tightly we barely have a spot to get a coffee, let alone go out for breakfast and chat, but I’m curious, to start, about what the prevailing thinking is on the minimum wage hike? We have a lot of great small and mid sized businesses that hire a lot of residents, students and out of towners for the tourist season. Tobermory and area is one of the premier summer visitor destinations in Southern Ontario. There is no doubt that everyone works hard, but does everyone share enough in the prosperity? I don’t think we have any consensus on how to answer that question but I think we should.
I fired off a few quick e-mails this week. Kelly McAdam Marcotte is the Chair of the Tobermory & District Chamber of Commerce. She says, “ I haven’t yet got a real grasp on how the majority of Tobermory business owners feel about the minimum wage increase. I have heard a few comments both positive and negative as is to be expected. We have a chamber meeting coming up and it will certainly be brought up on the agenda for discussion as I’m sure other members have some input from the business community.” That’s a good start; discussion and sharing differing viewpoints in the community. The last thing we want is for employees, especially those who live here full time, who are supposed to benefit from these changes, to feel any backlash or the burden of progressive social policy because folks haven’t taken time to process change.
Think about it; a ‘living wage’ which is what it really takes to makes ends meet for a family in Bruce and Grey counties in 2017 was $19.11 an hour; that’s with one adult working full time 40 hours a week and supporting two kids (reference Bruce Grey Living Wage 2017, United Way Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force). Social Planning experts across Ontario calculate these figures for different family types every year using a Canadian Living Wage framework and that’s pretty skimpy; no pets, no more than one dinner out a month, no credit card debt, no alcohol, no smoking, no looking after an elder and a bunch of other things the rest of us spend money on every day. So the minimum wage of $14.00 an hour and $15.00 next year isn’t anywhere near a rural ‘living wage ‘.
The living wage research also identifies the benefits for employers, workers and communities. On the employer side, paying higher wages is said to reduce absenteeism, decrease turnover rates, lower recruitment and training costs, increase staff morale and loyalty, improve productivity and service delivery and improve profile in the community ie) brand recognition and consumer loyalty (reference Perth Huron Social Research & Planning Council 2015). Kelly Marcotte agrees with some of these points from her own business experience. These are powerful business factors but are generalized across many types of businesses. The reality is, in this transition some people will lose and some will gain, but most analysis points to more gain in the long run. Over a third of Ontario workers earn less than $15.00 an hour. That’s a lot of people that will benefit and be able to spend, possibly pay down debt or save a little more.
Closer to home, anecdotally, we know some local businesses are already paying employees well above the new minimum wage and others are worried and I empathize. I know a little bit about the business side of life in Tobermory having worked in several of these hardworking businesses for the past 10 years. But, I’m also for more open discussion about the facts, the costs and the benefits for everyone in moving forward with the new minimum wage. If any businesses would like to add to the discussion, Kelly invites you to send comments to the Chamber at firstname.lastname@example.org and TMP would like to hear from anyone interested in this important topic.
To wrap up, I came across a stunning blog comment from Canadian community developer and author Paul Born, from Vibrant Communities, speaking in San Francisco in November, 2017. What he said was that “Canada is in the final stages of ending poverty. That the end of poverty is inevitable in Canada and I expect to see the end of economic poverty in my life time” and in his blog he says, “ I know you have either now burst into laughter at my statement or just written me off as a lunatic.” To see whether Paul is lunatic or skilled analyst go to https://www.tamarackcommunity.ca/latest/ending-poverty
I laughed but I also felt good and hopeful about some of the amazing things that have been occurring to reduce poverty in Canada, Ontario and the Bruce Peninsula in the past two years.
Noreen Steinacher is a full time resident of Tobermory and volunteer Chair of The Meeting Place Tobermory