The City of Quesnel has become the second municipality in British Columbia to implement a living wage policy for staff, after New Westminster.

City staff and contracted municipal service providers will see their baseline wages rise to a living wage of $16.52 per hour, up from the provincial minimum wage $10.45, according to the town's mayor Bob Simpson. Workers in the middle of their contracts will have their wages increase when contracts are renewed.

"The living wage is a way to look at how people can participate in your community and your economy over and above the minimum wage dialogue that goes on in the province," said Simpson on CBC's BC Almanac.

Simpson says the living wage is what a family of four with two income earners would need to meet the local costs of living — which includes rent, food and transportation — with enough extra to enjoy basic recreational activities and small savings. Living wages are unique to each region in the province and are relative to local costs.

Simpson admits that the total number of people directly affected by the new policy is small — businesses that aren't contracted by the city are not obliged to raise their wages. That means the bulk of employers in the community can still offer minimum wage.

But Simpson hopes that the new policy will begin to turn the tides.

"What we're clearly trying to do is to establish a benchmark to get all employers in our community to think about what they're paying their employees," said Simpson. "Can their employees earn enough through their wages to be able to live comfortably and affordably, and be able to participate in the economy?"

Keeping the local economy afloat

The mayor says the heightened wages are meant to keep the local economy healthy after major losses in the forestry sector.

"We're a community in transition," said Simpson. "We're one of the most heavily impacted by the mountain pine beetle. We've had a couple of mill closures, and we're hoping that we won't have any in the near future.

"But as we look at the long-term future, we're a community that's going to transition away from high-paying industrial jobs to more of a service sector economy — more tourism industry, more small and medium-sized enterprises." 

pine beetle

Quesnel was one of the communities in B.C. most adversely affected by the mountain pine beetle, according to the town's mayor. (CBC)

According to Simpson, the living wage is meant to act as a safeguard workers who are being forced out of higher-income industries like forestry.

"If people are dropping from these very high-paying jobs to more minimum wage jobs, you really grind your own economy to a halt because people don't have a disposable income," he said.

Living Wages

Deanna Ogle, the campaign organizer for Living Wage for Families, says that B.C. is a proven leader when it comes to implementing living wages in Canada.

"We have two municipalities that are living wage employers," said Ogle. "And we have one First Nation, the Huu-ay-aht on Vancouver Island."

Ogle says living wages have been calculated for communities all across Canada. According to Living Wage for Families, a rate of $20.64 is needed to support a family of four in Metro Vancouver, with both parents working full time.

With files from CBC's BC Almanac

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Quesnel becomes the second municipality in B.C. to implement living wage policy