Nova Scotia

Mike Savage tells mayoral forum he wants Halifax to lead when it comes to a living wage

A mayoral forum hosted by more than a dozen Halifax-area business groups heard two of the three candidates seeking the city's top job tell them they want to pay municipal employees more.

Rival Matt Whitman calls the idea 'terrible' and a business 'stifler'

Halifax mayoral candidates Mike Savage, Max Taylor and Matt Whitman attended a mayoral forum on Wednesday. (CBC)

Mike Savage wasn't playing to the business leaders who invited him to a mayoral forum Wednesday, telling them he would like to pay some municipal employees more and suggesting the municipality only do business with companies that pay their employees "a living wage."

"I think the city should pay a living wage to its employees," said Savage in response to a question put to him by moderator Norma Lee MacLeod.

"It should use its influence to make sure that people we do business with provide a living wage and that we need to be a leader on it."

Savage said council could make it "a policy of the city" that it will only deal with businesses that pay their employees above minimum wage.

"A minimum wage is not enough," he said.

Halifax mayor Mike Savage, who's seeking re-election, says the current minimum wage is "not enough." (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The current minimum wage in Nova Scotia is $12.55 an hour. What constitutes a living wage is less clear.

Nova Scotia New Democrats have long advocated for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives recently released a report which suggested a living wage in Nova Scotia would range from $16.80 to $21.80 an hour.

The lowest hourly wage being earned by a permanent full-time municipal employee is $20.88 per hour, said city spokeswoman Erin DiCarlo. There are also about 50 temporary part-time hourly employees earning minimum wage.

There are approximately 30 temporary full-time employees who earn between $15 and $20 per hour, she added. 

Split response to living wage proposal

The current mayor of Halifax won support for his idea from one of his two rivals, Max Taylor.

"Let's break it down, a living wage," said Taylor. "You need this wage to survive, you need it to live."

Max Taylor agreed with Savage that businesses should pay their staff a living wage. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

"If you're a business that refuses to give a living wage, then you're a greedy business. If you cannot afford to give a living wage to all of your staff, then have less staff," said Taylor.

But that enthusiasm was met with an equal measure of disdain from Coun. Matt Whitman, who is also in the race. He likened the idea to a Cuban-style policy.

Whitman also told Savage he could not have picked a worse time to float his ideas for a living wage, given how many small businesses are struggling during the ongoing pandemic.

"This would be the worst thing we could possibly do to stifle the rest of the businesses that are going to survive," said Whitman.

"If a business wants to do it, that's one thing, but to spend taxpayer's dollars to pay our staff a living wage is not a good suggestion. It's a terrible time during COVID."

Matt Whitman said imposing a higher wage will stifle businesses already affected by COVID-19. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Lindell Smith, councillor for Halifax Peninsula North, has a motion before council to discuss the idea of a living wage.

Savage said it would likely be up for discussion this fall, before the Oct. 17 municipal election.