Campaigners push Liberals for $15 minimum wage in Ontario
Provincial minimum is now $11.40 an hour, less than that for students and liquor servers
Labour groups are optimistic Premier Kathleen Wynne and her provincial Liberals will follow Alberta's lead and commit to raising Ontario's minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The campaigners are hoping to persuade the Liberals with evidence that a higher minimum wage will be both politically popular and make life more comfortable for people struggling to get by.
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"This government has committed to a social justice agenda, to a decent work agenda," said Pam Frache, provincial co-ordinator of the group Fight for $15 & Fairness. "Ontarians have high expectations that this government is going to do the right thing."
Ontario's current minimum wage is $11.40 an hour, after a 15-cent increase last fall. The minimum wage now rises yearly in line with the rate of inflation, following a Wynne campaign promise in the 2014 election.
Frache pushes back against arguments that a higher minimum wage would hurt business in Ontario.
"Most small businesses will tell you the most important thing they need is customers and if workers don't have money to spend, they can't participate in the economy," Frache said in an interview Wednesday.
Figures from Statistics Canada show that 9.2 per cent of Ontario's workforce — some 540,000 people — earn minimum wage. The campaigners estimate that nearly 1.5 million workers in the province earn less than $15 an hour.
The Liberals are publicly non-committal about adopting the $15 target in time for the June 2018 election.
"We're trying to make sure that people are earning a decent living, we're also trying to ensure that employers have predictability," Labour Minister Kevin Flynn told reporters at Queen's Park on Wednesday, adding that the minimum wage is due for review in 2019.
Flynn said he realizes the $15 wage appeals to people.
"When you dig down a little deeper into the issue though, you realize it's got ramifications that go beyond that first initial political appeal," he said. "There is actually an awful lot of economic forces at play."
One senior Liberal tells CBC Toronto that the party is not seriously considering putting the $15 minimum wage into its re-election platform, something another senior Liberal would neither confirm nor deny.
Polling suggests the plank could be a vote-getter for the Liberals, perhaps wooing away NDP support. A poll conducted last fall by Forum Research found two-thirds of Canadians supporting a national minimum wage of $15 an hour. The poll found 72 per cent approval among federal Liberal voters and 84 per cent approval among federal NDP supporters.
Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath announced her party's commitment to a $15 minimum wage in a speech last April.
"If the Liberal government won't do it, then Ontarians will have an opportunity in two years to elect one that will," Horwath said.
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The president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, Chris Buckley, told a legislative committee at Queen's Park on Wednesday that his organization wants a $15 minimum wage.
"We support immediately providing a basic income, but the income must be responsive to changes in earnings, the cost of living, and provide a standard of living above the poverty line," Buckley said.