It’s still not high enough

The provincial government sent out a news release earlier this week: the minimum wage in Canada is going up to $11.32 per hour, starting Oct. 1.

It’s one of those they issue every year, reminding us that the base minimum for the province is going up a little bit. But there was one important tidbit of information left out: it’s still the lowest minimum wage in the country.

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It’s not by much, Manitoba is at $11.35 an hour, and several other provinces are below $11.60 per hour. But you would think that after the minimum wage goes up, Saskatchewan would at least be in the middle of the pack, rather than in last place.

In Saskatchewan, our minimum wage is tied to the Consumer Price Index. It seems like a good idea; if this index goes up three per cent, then the minimum wage goes up three per cent. If it flat lines, so does the minimum wage.

But it seems like we’re not keeping pace with the rest of the country.

Part of the problem is that minimum wage is not a ballot box issue for most people. For those who earn at or near the minimum wage, you’re going to hope it increases.

But if you’re making in excess of say, $20 an hour, you aren’t likely going to be too worried about greater compensation for the lowest income earners.

The NDP in Alberta and the Liberals in Ontario both introduced big increases to minimum wage in those provinces, and it didn’t change their fortunes in elections. (Granted, there were other factors at play in both provinces that were far bigger issues than minimum wage).

But the public doesn’t gravitate to issues like minimum wage.

We want to hear about lower taxes, health care, education, the economy, the environment, our vast natural resources and a dozen other issues before a concept such as a staggering minimum wage increase.

The Saskatchewan NDP is touting a $15 per hour minimum wage if they win the next election, but it’s not resonating with the public. It’s certainly not going to win them votes with small business owners, a group that the NDP should be trying to win over rather than alienate.

In fact, to a lot of people, when you talk to them about a higher minimum wage, they wonder if it means the price of consumer goods will go up.

We’ve seen the negative consequences in other provinces when the minimum wage has jumped too quickly. It’s resulted in layoffs and reduced hours and frustration for business owners and customers. And you do have to be mindful of entrepreneurs, especially small business owners, and their needs, because small business owners drive the economy.

A balance of some sort has to be maintained.

Ultimately, our minimum wage should be higher. It would be great to see it as the highest in the country, but the movement of some other provinces means that we can’t be No. 1, or even No. 2 or No. 3. But we shouldn’t be No. 13, either.

If Saskatchewan had the lowest cost of living in the country, then perhaps it would make sense to have Canada’s lowest minimum wage. But we don’t. And so we need to bring the wage up a little bit more. The $12.50 per hour in Quebec might be reasonable.

And it means that it’s time to rethink the formula that determines the minimum wage, so that we don’t find ourselves dead last again. 

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