Quebecers rally for $15 minimum wage in Montreal

Buoyed by the success of similar campaigns elsewhere, a coalition calling for a $15 hourly minimum wage in Quebec is capping a summer of action with a demonstration in Montreal on Saturday.

'At $10.75, a person cannot live decently and with dignity,' Quebec's largest labour federation president says

The coalition held demonstrations this summer calling for a $15 hourly minimum wage in Quebec. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

Buoyed by the success of similar campaigns elsewhere, a coalition calling for a $15 hourly minimum wage in Quebec is capping a summer of action with a demonstration in Montreal on Saturday.

About 1,500 protestors marched from Le Prévost Park in Villeray towards du Parc Metro station, including Québec Solidaire MNA Manon Massé, unions, anti-poverty groups and students.

Protest organizer Cheolki Yoon says people can't escape poverty without wage hike. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)
Protest organizer Cheolki Yoon said only 20 people attended a similar action last year, pointing to a growing need for better wages as more and more people find themselves in precarious or non-permanent jobs.

"Recently I met a worker who worked for 26 years but her wage is $13 after 26 years work experience," he said, adding that people can't escape poverty without a wage hike.

Cheolki said the debate is now whether to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour immediately or gradually.

More than just survival

Although the campaign for the $15 is nothing new, one of the organizers feels there's been a "growing unanimity" that citizens cannot comfortably survive on minimum wage, currently $10.75 in Quebec.

"At $10.75, a person cannot live decently and with dignity," said Daniel Boyer, the president of Quebec's largest labour

The U.S. states of New York and California have approved measures to gradually implement a $15 minimum wage, and Alberta passed regulations in September to follow suit.

In Quebec, striking workers at Montreal's Old Port have made the issue a part of their campaign, with sign-waving workers becoming a regular presence at parades and political events throughout the summer.

Spokesman Konrad Lamour says some employees who have worked at the port for more than eight years still make less than $15 an hour, while many part-time workers are making less.

Two-thirds have no paid sick days, he says, and some must resort to food banks to make ends meet.

Montreal Old Port worker Konrad Lamour stands with a sign in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

"It's not enough," he said in an interview Friday. "Everything else is going high. The price of toilet paper, the price of food. Everything is going up except our salaries."

Both Boyer and Lamour pointed to studies by a Quebec research institute that recently pegged a "viable" minimum living wage at $15.10 provincewide.

Lamour said the Old Port workers, who have been on strike since May 27, are not currently negotiating for $15 an hour as part of concessions they have made during the bargaining process.

But he hopes they have contributed to a wider campaign that will eventually provide another avenue to higher wages.

Rallies across Canada

Labour unions and anti-poverty activists across the country have long been calling for a higher minimum wage as a way to reduce inequality and help lower-earning Canadians.

Alberta will move its minimum wage to $15 by 2018, while Ontario just increased its minimum for the third consecutive year and is considering whether to provide a guaranteed minimum income — a no-strings benefit that could replace various targeted social benefits.

Protestors call for increased minimum wage during a rally Queen’s Park in Toronto. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC News)

Rallies to urge the government to raise the minimum wage have been held in cities such as Toronto and Vancouver.

Business and industry groups have opposed the idea, saying it would have a negative impact on jobs and hurt the very workers it is designed to protect.

Quebec government sends mixed signals

The Quebec government has been sending mixed messages when it comes to its willingness to consider the growing demand for a higher minimum wage. 

Quebec's finance minister has publicly said there is no need to drastically raise the current minimum wage.
Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao says there's no need to increase minimum wage to $15. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

A spokesman for Labour Minister Dominique Vien's cabinet, however, told CBC News at the rally that they're "not unsympathetic" to the growing movement. 

Florent Tanlet said the government would need to strike a balance between the demands of employers and employees, adding that the labour ministry was looking at several different scenarios.

Premier Philippe Couillard also seems more open to the idea, saying he would consider holding a debate on the subject as long as all sides are heard.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, recently rejected the idea of raising the federal minimum wage, saying his government is focused on helping people succeed through tools such as the new child benefit, investments in infrastructure and helping low- and middle-income students afford post-secondary education.

But advocates for raising the minimum wage say the predictions of job losses haven't come true following significant hikes elsewhere, and they suggest it could help the economy in the long run.

"(People earning $15 an hour) won't be putting the money in tax havens — they'll spend it at a restaurant, seeing a movie, things they can't do now," Boyer said.

"It's money that will be reinvested in the economy."

With files from The Canadian Press