Hamilton groups want living wage, green jobs in Ontario budget

A handful of Hamilton social planners and labour activists have helped write a white paper on the provincial budget after giving their input to the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL).
Tom Cooper from the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction speaks alongside social planner Sara Mayo, Prof. Wayne Lewchuk and Nancy Hutchison from the Ontario Federation of Labour during the federation's meeting about the provincial budget Tuesday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

A handful of Hamilton poverty and labour activists have helped write a white paper on the provincial budget after giving their input to the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL).

Health care, green energy and resources for Hamiltonians living in poverty were common themes among the six deputations at an OLF event in Stoney Creek on Tuesday night.

The input will be used to advise the Kathleen Wynne government on the upcoming budget in a process the OFL is calling The People's Budget.

"We're cautiously optimistic" that Wynne will listen to the advice, said Nancy Hutchison, secretary-treasurer of the OLF, which represents 54 unions.

"She has said herself that she is looking for a fair society, a fair Ontario. Those are words we liked to hear. We hear a lot of words in our travels, but words have to equal action at the end of the day."

Hamilton needs the province to consider a living wage and reverse the cuts it has made to health care for low-income people, said Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.

Last year, the province axed discretionary health benefits for people on social assistance. It also cut the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefits program, which keeps Hamiltonians from homelessness. The city is covering the costs for now, but that's only short term, he said.

Cooper also told the white paper's authors that minimum wage is too arbitrary and not based on reality.

"A living wage is based on the cost of living in a community," Cooper said afterward. "Minimum wage is political — what politicians might be able to sell during an election."

The delegation was mostly comprised of local social and labour activists. It included:

  • Sara Mayo from the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton
  • Peter Page and Karl Crevar from the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups
  • Kim Kerridge from Greenpeace Canada
  • Sue Hotte from the Niagara Health Coalition

It was moderated by Hutchison and Prof. Wayne Lewchuk from McMaster University's School of Labour Studies.

The OLF will likely deliver the white paper to the province next week, Hutchison said. Tuesday's meeting was the eighth of nine meetings around Ontario.

By the end of the process, Hutchison said, they should have "hundreds" of voices.

There were only about seven people in the audience Tuesday, but Hutchison said the events are not designed to draw a crowd.

"These aren't designed as town halls, so we don't expect a big turnout, to be honest with you," she said. "We're really just focusing on who's doing the submissions to get them on the record."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca