There is much debate here in Ontario about the changes to the minimum wage that came in on January 1. Some employers are cutting other employee benefits (like breaks or tips) so that their costs don’t go up. People are saying that an increased minimum wage will kill small businesses. Others are pointing out that if paying your workers a living wage kills your business, then your business model was flawed.

This change does not affect me, but it does affect people I know, it will probably affect where I spend my money.

The fact is that Ontario’s minimum wage increased from $11.60 an hour to $14 an hour on January 1 and will increase again on January 1, 2019 to $15 an hour. (There are still lower rates for servers and students – and as someone who was paid a server rate in a job that didn’t actually provide tips, that sucks).

Bill 148, dubbed the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, was introduced in June of this year. Meanwhile, in Alberta the move to a $15 minimum wage is happening slowly, with increases in October 2016, October 2017 and finally the move to $15 in October of this year. This means businesses have two years to prepare for the highest jump – from $13.60 to $15 for their lowest paid workers.

There has been criticism for the Ontario government for making this move too quickly, and rightly so. There has also been criticism of the Liberal government, facing an election that they will most likely lose in June 2018, adopting a New Democratic policy to try and win votes.

(When the chips are down, Liberals generally go for NDP votes – see Paul Martin’s 2006 request for NDP voters to ‘lend me your vote.’)

But with these factors, there is still the matter of paying people a living wage. Polls have proven again and again that the public thinks minimum wage workers are young people in their first jobs but that is not the case.  According to the CCPA, 15 per cent of workers getting this small raise are over the age of 55.

Many businesses knew going in that they would have to cut staff or at least staff hours, that this was going to be a period of transition. We are now seeing examples of businesses acting cruelly to their employees, who don’t have the time, power or privilege to fight back.

But it is not enough for the Premier to call business owners bullies and say their problem is with her. She cannot name and shame every business that gives employees less for getting more. What she can do is give employees more power, more rights. What Ontarians can do is understand who the average minimum wage worker is and support more rights for them.

I firmly believe that haves must support have-nots. I believe that is the purpose of all society – not to be the richest, to have the most privilege and the best access – but to support others and ensure everyone has access to what they need. That is what being Canadian means to me, the ideals that built our health care system, and what government is for.

There are people, usually on the right, who criticize governments they see as ‘tax-and-spend’ but if that’s not what government is for – to take wealth and distribute it so that there is more fairness – then why have one at all?

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