PC cabinet ministers aren’t planning any immediate changes in the wake of the latest living wage report, which found more than half of Nova Scotia workers are making less than they need to get by.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia (CCPA-NS) published its annual report Thursday, as Yvette d’Entremont reported for the Halifax Examiner.
CCPA-NS sets the new living wage for Halifax at $26.50 an hour, the highest in the province, up 13% from $23.50 last year. The living wage in Cape Breton is $22.85, the lowest. The average increase over the last year across the province is 14%.
Minimum wage in Nova Scotia is $14.50, rising to $15 on Oct. 1.
During a post-cabinet scrum with reporters on Thursday, Labour Minister Jill Balser said the province’s Minimum Wage Review Committee will take the report into consideration as it works to bring her a recommendation by the end of the year.
“We have representatives that are representing workers as well as employers because we have to have a balanced approach when it comes to what the minimum wage needs to be,” Balser said.
“So making sure that they’re having the information that they needed, that they’re asking for, they’re having those difficult conversations, and they’re bringing forward a recommendation to me as minister for minimum wage.”
PCs prefer ‘targeted’ support
Finance Minister Allan MacMaster said the report is “concerning, and we’re living in an environment where we’ve seen a lot of change the last number of years.”
“We’re well aware that all of these changes in our economy are making life perilous for some people,” MacMaster said.
MacMaster said his government has been focused on “targeted” help, like increasing the Nova Scotia Child Benefit.
But the PCs have frozen income assistance rates during record inflation. At a committee meeting in April, lawyer Vince Calderhead told MLAs that income assistance recipients in the province are in “deep income poverty.”
“By choosing to not increase income assistance by a single penny, the province is choosing to increase food insecurity, choosing to increase the inadequacy of families’ ability to put food on the table,” Calderhead told the legislature’s Law Amendments Committee. “Under international human rights law, when you make families worse off, that’s a clear human rights violation.”
Minister says welfare recipients need to ask for help
On Thursday, MacMaster said he’s started the process to build the government’s next budget, and “we’re looking at all those things.”
Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane said the government is always looking for ways to make life easier for Nova Scotians.
“Nothing is ever off the table,” MacFarlane said.
Asked directly whether she’d like to see an increase in income assistance rates, Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane avoided the question and suggested people on assistance who need more help should ask their case worker.
“I always suggest that if someone is struggling, to come to us, to come to their social worker and sit down with them, do they need a special diet? Do they need transportation to work? Do they need daycare? So we are always trying to help each individual and we cannot say enough: reach out to your caseworker, your social worker, and we will certainly do everything we can to ensure that your basic needs are met,” MacFarlane said.
MacFarlane said those workers “will exhaust every level of assistance out there to ensure that that individual is receiving what they need, whether that be shelter, whether that be food, whether it be medical needs.”
NDP says raise minimum wage, Liberals say cut taxes
NDP leader Claudia Chender said the report “should be a clarion call for government to finally take action in all of the ways that they’re able to do that, from raising income assistance to building more affordable housing, to waving PharmaCare fees.
“They should be doing whatever they can to help Nova Scotians get by, and certainly through raising the minimum wage,” Chender told reporters.
Chender said it’s the minister’s responsibility to set the minimum wage, and she can do that outside the cycle of the committee’s recommendations.
“I don’t think anyone thinks that the $15 in October is going to make life easier for the people who are making minimum wage,” Chender said, “and given rising homelessness in the city, this government’s refusal to do anything meaningful about rent control or closing the fixed-term lease loophole, they should be very, very concerned and absolutely should raise that minimum wage immediately.”
Liberal leader Zach Churchill shared Chender’s concerns about Nova Scotians’ finances.
“People are having a hard time making ends meet right now. It’s not just those that are on the lower income [end] of the spectrum, these are working families that are going and shopping for groceries at Dollarama because that’s all they can afford,” Churchill said.
He wouldn’t rush to increase minimum wage, however.
“We cannot create a situation where businesses are forced to lay people off, so we do have to consider the business interests,” Churchill said. “But there are also other things the government can do.”
Churchill called on the government to lower income tax and fees, index income assistance rates to inflation, and provide lunches for kids in the province’s schools.
“The most we’ve seen this government do is really point the finger at Ottawa, but most of the tools to help with cost of living are actually in the province’s toolbox.”