Ac­tion is needed on poverty, not more talk

The Amherst News - - COVER STORY - Ge­off de Gannes Ge­off deGannes is the past chair­man of the Tantra­mar Ra­dio So­ci­ety. His daily com­men­taries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.

Dur­ing the re­cent an­nual Labour Day cel­e­bra­tions in Amherst, a pro­vin­cial union leader is­sued a chal­lenge to town of­fi­cials to bring some pres­sure to bear upon the Mc­Neil Lib­eral Govern­ment to in­crease the prov­ince’s min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour.

Lawrence McKay of the United Steel­work­ers of Amer­ica con­tends that too many Nova Sco­tians are liv­ing in poverty be­cause they sim­ply can’t make ends meet on the cur­rent min­i­mum wage. He’s sug­gest­ing the town could set an ex­am­ple for other com­mu­ni­ties by sup­port­ing a res­o­lu­tion call­ing on the prov­ince to hike the min­i­mum wage to the $15 level.

No one can deny that try­ing to keep your head above wa­ter fi­nan­cially in today’s econ­omy is al­most im­pos­si­ble at the cur­rent min­i­mum wage rate. Sin­gle par­ents earn­ing min­i­mum wage are us­ing food banks to make ends meet while Mar­itime stu­dents, who are bur­dened with univer­sity loans, face some of the high­est tu­itions in the coun­try, and high rates of sum­mer un­em­ploy­ment.

Nova Sco­tia NDP Leader Gary Bur­rill ar­gues that in­creas­ing the rate to $15 would stim­u­late the econ­omy be­cause it would im­prove the buy­ing power of lower in­come work­ers.

From the em­ploy­ers’ per­spec­tive, an in­creased min­i­mum wage does have its draw­backs and many in the food and bev­er­age in­dus­try have long been crit­i­cal of the process say­ing a small wage hike can trig­ger a cas­cade of ex­tra ex­penses. For ex­am­ple, the res­tau­rant in­dus­try in this prov­ince has re­sponded in the past by elim­i­nat­ing jobs and cut­ting em­ploy­ees hours.

Te cur­rent govern­ment isn’t con­vinced that the in­creased rate would have the de­sired ef­fect. Premier Mc­Neil has al­ready said the pro­posed in­crease would pro­duce in­fla­tion­ary pres­sures that would be felt by small busi­nesses and other work­ers. Right now we have the Min­i­mum Wage Re­view Com­mit­tee which has rep­re­sen­ta­tion from busi­ness and labour. Min­i­mum wage in­creases now oc­cur an­nu­ally and are based on the pre­vi­ous year’s na­tional Con­sumer Price In­dex. It al­lows em­ploy­ers to set their an­nual bud­gets know­ing well in ad­vance what the min­i­mum wage will be. Granted, that is lit­tle con­so­la­tion for low in­come fam­i­lies who just can’t seem to get ahead. One pos­si­ble so­lu­tion that is be­ing pro­posed by the NDP is that small and fam­ily-op­er­ated busi­nesses would be ex­empt from the in­crease while large cor­po­ra­tions would foot the bill. The Mc­Neil Lib­er­als have talked about in­creas­ing the ba­sic per­sonal ex­emp­tion as one way to pro­vide re­lief to low in­come earn­ers.

For the work­ing poor in this prov­ince, hav­ing our po­lit­i­cal, busi­ness and labour lead­ers talk­ing about pos­si­ble so­lu­tions is lit­tle con­so­la­tion. We need only look at the lat­est cen­sus fig­ures from Sta­tis­tics Canada which clearly in­di­cate that work­ers in both Nova Sco­tia and New Brunswick are trail­ing the rest of the coun­try in terms of house­hold in­come and have the high­est rates of child poverty at 22 per cent. That should be seen as sim­ply un­ac­cept­able.

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