New Brunswick

Mel Norton touts benefits of living wage concept

Saint John Mayor Mel Norton shared the city's experiences with poverty at a mayors' conference this week in Edmonton, and came away with a new proposal to take to council and the city's business community.

Idea explored at mayors' conference on poverty reduction held this week in Edmonton

Mayor Mel Norton says council still has time to have a conversation about endorsing a living wage policy for the City of Saint John. (Rachel Cave/CBC)

Saint John Mayor Mel Norton shared the city's experiences with poverty at a mayors' conference this week in Edmonton, and came away with a new proposal for council and the city's business community.

The conference called Cities Reducing Poverty: When Mayors Lead looked at best practices and progress being made across Canada.

A living wage policy was among the ideas touted by municipalities. An hourly wage of $14.95 is considered enough to allow people to live modestly, and give them the means to pull themselves and their families out of poverty.

New Brunswick recently set its minimum wage at $10.65 an hour.

The City of Hamilton has already endorsed the development of a living wage policy for its employees, and several employers in the city made a similar pledge. 

Norton says the same conversation is worth having with Saint John council, even though its mandate is nearing an end.

"There's an opportunity for us to play a leadership role," Norton said Friday in an interview on Information Morning Saint John.

"Adopting a voluntary policy that the folks we do business with would have to provide a living wage to their employees … we have an opportunity to have these kinds of discussions."

Ending generational poverty a priority

Norton attended the conference with Cathy Wright, executive director of the social renewal strategy, Living SJ.

She says cities need to take bold steps to end generational poverty.

"What is the kind of income level people need if they're working to be able to live in the cities … you need to set the goal," said Wright.

"We have a huge momentum to build on, and now we need to go deeper and really look at how we work together and across the sector."

Saint John has the highest rate of child poverty in Canada, at 27 per cent.

Despite that alarming statistic, Wright says she was encouraged to see the city recognized at the national conference for its efforts to address poverty.

Saint John was profiled as one of 10 communities making a difference across the country.

"That's very exciting for us. What we're trying to do is really look at how, with our four very specific priorities for education, employment, health and neighbourhoods, that corresponds to the agenda of the city," said Wright.

Norton says cities play an "enormous role" in the elimination of poverty.

"It's a role that traditionally has been underestimated, perhaps even by municipal leadership," he said.

"We have a tremendous opportunity to make a difference."

With files from Information Morning Saint John

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