Amid a cost-of-living crisis driving up food bank visits and economic anxiety, the minimum wage increased in six provinces today – but both advocates and critics fear it may not be enough to tackle the overarching problem.
While B.C., Alberta, Quebec, New Brunswick and the territories will see no changes to wage rates, the minimum wage in Ontario will go up to $16.55 an hour, Manitoba to $15.30, while Nova Scotia, P.E.I and Newfoundland and Labrador rise to $15.
Saskatchewan’s minimum wage also rose today to $14, but is still the lowest in the country, trailing New Brunswick by 75 cents.
Advocates welcome the raises, but say it is still not enough to help Canadians make ends meet.
“Our living wage is actually $23 dollars and 15 cents,” Craig Pickthorne, communications coordinator with Ontario Living Wage Network, told CTV National News. “That means if you’re working full time at minimum wage, even after this increase, you’re still short by $230 a week.”
The increase represents an annual raise of $2,200 for a person earning minimum wage and working 40 hours a week in Ontario.
Post-secondary student Mya Copeland told CTV National News that the raise won’t fully cover increasing expenses.
“No matter how much you raise minimum wage, things are always going to be so expensive,” Copeland said.
Manitoba’s minimum wage has jumped up by $1.15 per hour, and is now trailing only Ontario, B.C. and the territories in minimum wage. In Canada, the highest minimum wage is in the Yukon, where workers receive $16.77 per hour, followed closely by B.C.’s $16.75 per hour minimum wage.
Nunavut’s minimum wage is $16 per hour, and the Northwest Territories saw its minimum wage increase to $16.05 per hour in September.
With this new increase, Nova Scotia workers are now earning $1.40 more per hour compared to last year.
It’s a change that is eight years overdue, says one policy analyst, as the working class make more visits to the foodbanks.
“They’re getting by by making very difficult choices, whether that may mean not filling their prescription drugs because they can’t afford to, that might mean sacrificing food,” Christine Saulnier, director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Halifax, told CTV National News.
In Saskatchewan, Food Banks of Canada’s poverty index gave the province a barely-passing grade in September, finding that more than a quarter of those surveyed were unable to afford items considered necessary for an adequate standard of living.
The province has pledged to reach a $15 an hour minimum wage by Oct. 2024.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says the wage increases seen today may create challenges for small business owners that can’t afford to pay their staff, predicting some may have to cut jobs.
“It does push more businesses to try and look at what processes to try and be able to automate, whether they can reduce the number of hours that they have,” Dan Kelly, CEO of the group, told CTV National News.
One economist, on the other hand, warns the minimum wage rises are only a Band-aid solution, and that inflation may cause overall costs to once again outstrip the gains of minimum wage.
“That’s not going to fix the problem,” Moshe Lander, professor at Concordia University, told CTV National News.
“At a time when the Bank of Canada is struggling to reign in inflation, I hate to say it, but this is an inflationary move on multiple provinces which increases the likelihood that at some point in the next six months, we’re probably going to talk about another interest rate increase again.”
A recent Leger survey found that half of young Canadians report living paycheque-to-paycheque, with an increasing number of millennials and Gen Z adults changing their spending habits due to the increasing cost of living.
Advocates say they would like to see all levels of government step in with more policies across the board to support low income workers during these difficult economic times.