Small minimum-wage increase is a reason to talk about a B.C. poverty reduction strategy, advocate says

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      Tomorrow (September 15), British Columbia’s lowest-paid workers will receive a small raise.

      The minimum wage will go up by 40 cents, to $10.85 an hour. That will be the first of two scheduled increases. A second jump, to $11.25 an hour, is planned for September 2017. From there, B.C.’s minimum wage will rise on an annual basis pegged to the consumer price index (CPI), which equates to just over 10 cents a year.

      The two increases are small but still an unexpected bonus. The provincial government originally planned to only take the minimum wage up to $10.45 an hour before tying it to the CPI.

      The difference of 60 cents that the two September jumps will bring means an extra $1,248 per year for full-time employees earning the minimum wage.

      The province’s initial plan would have left B.C.’s minimum wage among the lowest in Canada, when ranked alongside the other provinces and territories. It was only after a series of investigate reports published by the Straight that the B.C. Ministry of Jobs backtracked on its original plan and announced the two unexpected 40-cent increases.  

      But $11.25 falls far short of the NDP’s plan to take the minimum wage to $15 by 2021 and the B.C. Green Party’s stated intention to go at least that high.

      Paul Taylor is a cochair of the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition and the executive director of the Vancouver-based Gordon Neighbourhood House. In a telephone interview, he described those measures as nothing more than a “first step”.

      “It is not enough,” Taylor stressed. “We know that Vancouver is one of, if not the most, expensive cities to live in in Canada. And so we need to look at a $15 minimum wage at the very least.”

      He quickly added that what B.C. really needs is a poverty-reduction strategy.

      “We need a comprehensive strategy where we realistically look at a variety of things that cause people to be poor,” Taylor explained. “Income can be modestly increased, like is going to happen tomorrow. But with housing costs where they are and childcare costs where they are, that does little to help people. So what’s needed is a poverty-reduction strategy that takes a look at the various factors that cause people to be poor or in poverty.”

      As part of such a strategy, Taylor said he would like to see the provincial government re-examine B.C.’s welfare rates (which have remained frozen since 2007), support for people with disabilities, and funding for affordable housing.

      Taylor maintained that increased funding for those programs would not cost as much as some people might think, given they would allow the government to save money in other areas.

      “The costs of poverty are quite significant,” he explained.