The minimum wage in the Northwest Territories will rise in eight days for the first time in three years.
When the 96-cent increase kicks in on April 1, the territory will have Canada’s third-highest minimum wage at $13.46.
For Kevin O’Reilly, that’s not good enough. The Frame Lake MLA says he believes the new minimum wage still falls short of what is necessary to meet even an “extremely basic standard of living” in the territory.
In the legislature last week, O’Reilly said the government should be working toward a minimum wage that is equal to a ‘living wage’ and better accounts for a higher cost of living in the North.
A living wage typically refers to the amount each adult in a family of four with two young children must earn in order to: afford the basic necessities of life, and be active participants in their community.
“If you start with the premise that someone who is working for a minimum wage should be out of poverty, a living wage is what we should be aiming for,” said O’Reilly.
“The living wage … is a defensible figure calculated through a nationally recognized procedure.”
Using such a procedure, Alternatives North, a social justice coalition O’Reilly has volunteered with in the past, pegged Yellowknife’s 2017 living wage at a much higher $22.24.
The April 1 increase to $13.46 was determined by Education, Culture and Employment Minister Alfred Moses back in January, based on a recommendation by the Minimum Wage Committee (MWC). Appointed by Moses, the MWC reviews the minimum wage every two years.
O’Reilly told the legislative assembly the committee provided Moses with three options for the minimum wage: keep it at $12.50 per hour, or raise it $13.46 or $14.96 respectively.
Moses was not available for interviews Wednesday; however, when previously asked by O’Reilly if he would consider changing the way the minimum wage was calculated – such as indexing it to inflation or the cost of living – he said it wasn’t on his agenda. He also said about 700 residents would see the benefits of this wage increase in their next paycheques.
Leslie Bromely, the owner of Gourmet Cup Beverage Station, said she will likely have to raise her prices after April 1.
“It’s really nice to be able to put the wage up, but you’ve got to consider how difficult it is on the small businesses in this town,” said Bromely, who employs a number of high school students.
Bromley said she hasn’t raised prices at her cafe in the YK Centre since the last mandatory wage increase in 2015.
“Not all of us have big money to throw around,” she said Wednesday. “It definitely does affect us.”
Jack Bourassa, regional vice-president of Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) North, said he remembers when the NWT used to be ahead of the pack with its relatively high minimum wage.
The territory has taken a “really bad step backwards,” he said, in failing to keep up with provinces such as Ontario and Alberta, which have committed to raising the minimum wage to $15 in the next fiscal year.
At $14 an hour, Ontario currently has the country’s highest minimum wage, followed by Alberta at $13.60.
Though PSAC members earn above the minimum wage, Bourassa said he cares about the issue because it affects the territory as a whole.
In keeping the base wage below the estimated living wage, the GNWT is “promoting poverty,” he said.