Federal minimum wage to $15 sparks squabble during debate

Image via http://www.huffingtonpost.ca
Image via http://www.huffingtonpost.ca

Are you due for a raise?

By Chandler Walter, Humour Editor

Amid the torrent of interruptions, arguments, and general chaos that impeded the Federal Leaders’ Debate last Thursday, the matter of the NDP’s proposed $15-an-hour federal minimum wage was brought up and dropped over the span of a few minutes in a conversation between Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, with incumbent Stephen Harper watching the exchange from the sidelines.

With the raise being a staple in the economic plan for the NDP, Trudeau was quick to criticize the NDP platform.

“Ninety-nine per cent of Canadians earning the minimum wage aren’t going to be affected by Mr. Mulcair’s puff of smoke,” Trudeau said in response to Mulcair’s statement that the NDP will “give a raise to over 100,000 people earning the federal minimum wage or less.”

Stephen Phillips, a political science professor at Langara College, explained the distinction between provincial and federal minimum wages.

He said that around 90 per cent of Canada’s workforce participates in jobs in which the provincial government regulates the minimum wage. Because of this, those 90 per cent would not see a raise from the NDP.

“When Mulcair says he’s going to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, and he admits this, he’s talking about those workers who are employed in federally regulated industries, which is only about 10 percent of the work force,” Phillips said.

Those receiving the federal minimum wage are workers at places such as chartered banks, national airlines, national railways, and post offices.

Phillips points out that in 1996 the government under Jean Chrétien tied the federal minimum wage to the prevailing minimum wage in any given province. This effectively ceased the existing uniform federal minimum wage, a policy that the New Democratic Party is hoping to revive.

This is of considerable concern for those living in BC, as the minimum wage is one of the lowest in the country (although it was recently raised to $10.45 on September 15), and it is a main concern to students, like Langara College’s Alex Mundy.

When asked what he considered to be the most important issue for youth and students in this upcoming election, he replied: “The cost of living, whether that includes cost of housing or cost of education, and finding a job that has a decent wage.”

Mundy was aware that the promise of a federal minimum wage would not effect as many as it might seem, though notes: “It wouldn’t be bad to hear about it more, though. A lot of people don’t really follow the news all that much.”

Phillips likened the possible effect of a raise in the federal minimum wage to a scenario between a unionized workplace and a non-unionized one. He said that the unionized workers receiving wage increases could have an indirect effect on the non-union work place, and may tempt them to raise their wages as well, so as to not lose workers to the higher paid jobs.

Only time will tell whether this will have any effect on Canadians’ wages, although Mulcair hopes the policy will be good for all Canadians: “A $15 an hour federal minimum wage is not only good for [federally regulated workers], it’s a good signal to the provinces to do the same thing, to bring up a living wage.”