So, Ontario’s minimum wage is going up. As per Premier Doug Ford, baseline pay for employees across the province will increase on Jan. 1, going up by 65 cents to $15 an hour. This follows an earlier move, which came into effect in October, to up it by 10 cents to the current $14.35.
While I’m sure most full-time workers currently earning minimum wage will be pleased to hear that their annual pay packet will receive a bump of $1,352, it must be said that this increase is miniscule compared to what’s actually needed.
And Ford knows that. It really grinded my gears on Tuesday when the premier was all smiles in making this announcement, putting on a charade that he has long been the champion of increasing pay rates in Ontario.
“For many… wages haven’t kept up with the increasing cost of living, making it harder than ever to make ends meet,” he first said.
This is true. Canada’s inflation rate hit a near 20-year high last month, sitting at 4.4 per cent according to Stats Canada.
Taking a deeper dive into those statistics, the price of gasoline has increased by 32.8 per cent since Sept. 2020, while food prices have gone up, on average, 3.9 per cent in the past year. The cost of housing climbed too, up by 4.8 per cent. So. while this 4.3 per cent increase to pay is being presented as some huge saviour for minimum-wage workers, the truth is they will still find themselves behind from where they were this time 12 months ago.
And for Ford to say that he “always said workers deserve to have more money in their pockets” is an outright lie. When he was elected in 2018, one of the first things he did was cancel the previous Liberal government’s plan to increase the minimum wage to, you guessed it, $15 an hour by 2019.
At the time, Ford claimed a $15 minimum wage was bad for workers and would lead to substantial layoffs.
What’s changed? If anything, businesses are in even more of a precarious position today than they were three years ago, thanks to the pandemic.
The only real difference from now and then is that Ford is coming up to the end of his term in office, rather than just starting out.
A provincial election is just six months away.
The cynic in me is looking at this move as a cheap way for him to buy votes.
Just about the only real positive to come out of this announcement is that servers and bartenders will see their hourly rates brought up to par with other workers, up to $15 an hour from the current $12.55.
Given that many restaurants around Haliburton have struggled to find staff over the past several months, this should give them a bit of a boost.
But what overall impact is this rise going to have on minimum wage workers in Haliburton County? Likely not much. In 2019, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit said a ‘living wage’ in Haliburton was $19.42.
It has undoubtedly risen since then. So, what can be done?
A universal basic income, piloted in nearby Lindsay to some success in 2017, is an interesting concept, but surely far too expensive to ever come to fruition. We need to see more creative thinking from our leaders if we’re going to help our most vulnerable people get out of this mess. Because one thing’s for sure – increasing the minimum wage by 65 cents an hour isn’t going to change a thing.