A $15 federal minimum wage will not solve inequality – but it could help

I am going to vote for the NDP’s motion on reinstating the federal minimum wage. A federal minimum wage would only apply to federally regulated industries which comprise only a small portion of the workforce. The reaction to this motion has been fairly predictable. Labour supports it and the Canadian Federation for Independent Business opposes it. Both have some good points.

Here’s the full text of motion:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should reinstate the federal minimum wage and increase it incrementally to $15 per hour over five years.

All the economic evidence in Canada shows that income inequality in Canada is rising steadily. This isn’t partisan data. In 2013, the Conference Board of Canada gave Canada a “C” grade, noting that income inequality in Canada has been increasing over the past 20 years. Earlier this year, Former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, spoke of an unease “backed up by hard data” that the “basic social contract is breaking down” due to the “growing exclusivity of capitalism.” The World Economic Forum, The OECD, the IMF, and countless others are making the same urgent argument. Inequality is destabilizing, damaging to the whole economy, dangerous, and increasing at an unacceptable rate. Not to mention that it’s fundamentally unjust.

Some have criticized this motion to reinstate a federal minimum wage, eventually reaching $15, because it would affect only a few hundred workers (the most recent data we have is from 2008 and shows that only 416 federally regulated workers made minimum wage). Others have, legitimately, countered that all workers are worth protecting. Some hope that it will pressure the provincial governments to raise their minimum wages. As Trish Hennessy wrote, it could “set a new tone for the value of decent work in Canada. Still, providing a fairer wage that is still below any calculations for a living wage to a few hundred workers will not by itself address structural inequality. I support this motion but we can do better.

We need something more substantial to get out of this mess. The Green Party calls for the implementation of a universal Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI). A GLI would provide the means for every Canadian to avoid poverty. It would save the health care system, the criminal justice system, and a whole raft of other social programs from spending their valuable resources on issues whose root cause is poverty. It could easily be paid for by a modest carbon tax. It would make our economy stronger and our society more just. A GLI paid for by a carbon tax would help to bridge any perceived gap between the fights for social, labour, economic, and environmental justice. It would also help minimize the disproportionate carbon footprint of the wealthy while allowing the less wealthy the freedom to find good work, without being forced to take any job that will employ them. It would hopefully spur real change in the intertwined fights for a livable climate and a just society.

I support this motion but I’d like to see real action on inequality.