Minimum wage will rise by 40 cents this April 1 to $13.35. More than 31,000 people in Nova Scotia will get a slight hourly increase but nowhere close to the current rate of inflation running at about 5% annualized. 

Premier Tim Houston said his government accepts this first recommendation made by the Minimum Wage Review Committee but “will take a little bit more time” to hear from employees and employers before deciding if it will commit to implementing the Committee’s additional two recommendations.

The Review Committee is recommending a second adjustment on October 1, 2022 that would bring the minimum wage to $13.60. Taken together, these two raises would match the 5% rise in the Consumer Price Index. The committee’s recommendations also include a path to a $15 minimum wage by 2024. 

NDP leader Gary Burrill said the government has the financial capacity to commit to a $15 minimum wage and should not delay implementing the committee’s recommendations to reach that benchmark.

“Nova Scotia is in a hole when it comes to minimum wage,” said Burrill. “With the dramatic increase in grocery prices lately, there are a lot of workers earning minimum wage who are seeing the ability to support their households slipping between their fingers. This is why the government in Nova Scotia needs to make a move like the government of Ontario did two weeks ago and New Brunswick did a month ago. We need a minimum wage floor of $15 and then we can talk about how to get to an actual living wage of $18-20 an hour.”

Economic Development minister Susan Corkum-Greek noted that the labour shortages facing many industries may make increasing the minimum wage a less divisive issue than it would have been a year ago. 

“For small businesses who are struggling to survive the pandemic,” said Corkum-Greek, who represents the Lunenburg area, “ a minimum wage increase wouldn’t be under the heading of good news. But I think there is a growing acceptance that this is something businesses must prepare for in their own way.”

Sticky questions

Apartment buildings in Halifax. — Photo: Zane Woodford
Apartment buildings in Halifax. — Photo: Zane Woodford

At an after-cabinet virtual scrum with reporters, government ministers faced questions from reporters.

1.Does the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing consider housing “a human right?” reporter Francis Campbell with the Chronicle Herald wanted to know. The United Nations has declared it is. John Lohr, the Housing Minister, couldn’t provide a definite answer. “I’m not sure exactly what that means,”, said Lohr,. “We need to develop a long-term strategy so we aren’t ready to commit to that right now, but we are certainly looking at it. Everybody needs good housing.”

2. Public Health reports outbreaks of COVID at long-term care homes, but why didn’t it report an outbreak of COVID at an Adult Residential Centre that houses 180 people before Christmas? asked Michael Tutton with the Canadian Press. The facility was the Kings County Rehabilitation Centre in Waterville. Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane said although her department is responsible for homes that care for people with disabilities, the decision about whether to report outbreaks of flu or COVID is the responsibility of Public Health.

Health Minister Michelle Thompson was asked why Adult Residential Centres that house hundreds of people in congregate settings are not treated the same way as nursing homes. Thompson said all COVID cases are included in the daily case counts reported to the public by Public Health. 

However, the size of the residential centre (some have less than 10 residents) may be a factor in whether Public Health chooses to name a home that has an outbreak. That decision gets made on a case-by-case basis, she said.

Thompson said in some homes where there are good infection controls, a COVID case may be confined to one wing or one unit. “We want to ensure residents who are not impacted directly can move in and out of the community without any risk of being stigmatized,” she said.

3. How much did the province pay to settle a lawsuit brought by former Department of Justice lawyer Alex Cameron?

Premier Houston confirmed the matter has been settled. The Houston government is withholding the dollar amount of what the settlement cost the public, saying it will make no further comment. There may be a confidentiality agreement; we don’t know. 

Alex Cameron left his job in 2017. The maverick lawyer sued the province for defamation and constructive dismissal after Premier Stephen McNeil publicly lambasted the lawyer for arguing the province did not owe the Sipkne’katik First Nation a “duty to consult” because it had submitted to the British Crown in 1760. 

The consultation issue came up during the First Nation’s protest of the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project. McNeil said he didn’t sanction Cameron’s stance. Cameron said he had permission from the deputy Justice Minister and Bernie Miller, the premier’s trusted senior advisor, to make the argument in court. 

For years, issues of solicitor-client privilege sent up by the province to the Supreme Court of Canada (ka-ching) stalled the lawsuit, which brought into question the credibility of the former premier as well as the former Justice Department lawyer.

Yarmouth ferry 2022

The Alakai, docked at Yarmouth in 2019. Photo: Suzanne Rent

Houston said he is hopeful the Yarmouth ferry will operate this season and there is $14 million in the budget to pay for it. 

With Omicron raging and the Centre for Disease Control currently advising Americans not to visit Canada right now, The Cat won’t be advertising many Love Boat voyages unless things settle down. 

“The province has a contract with Bay Ferries until 2026 so let’s keep our fingers crossed we have a full sailing season,” said Public Works Minister Kim Masland. Fingers crossed, indeed. The boat hasn’t sailed in three years and costs around $12 million a year even when jt is sitting at the dock. 

When the Progressive Conservatives were in opposition, they regularly criticized The Cat because it wasn’t the right vessel, and were outraged that Bay Ferries receives a $1 million a year whether the boat sails or not. That was then and this is now.

In-school vaccinations

NDP leader Gary Burrill. Photo: NS legislature

Kids and teachers go back to school Monday. At elementary schools, there are still 40% of students aged 5-11 years who have not received a first dose of vaccine. That’s despite appointments available at pharmacies and clinics since well before Christmas, when schools closed early. 

Journalists asked Minister of Education Becky Druhan why schools are not being considered as potential immunization sites for younger children once school goes back to in-person learning. Until fairly recently, all needles to prevent diseases such as measles and tetanus were delivered at school. 

Druhan essentially ducked the question by saying immunization is the responsibility of Public Health. That’s true, but she refused to take any position on whether schools could be made safer for all by serving as a location for clinics.

Some observers, including NDP leader Gary Burrill, are wondering if the fastest way to increase the rate of vaccination in young children might be to jab them where they gather.

“It certainly does seem that the way we would expedite this is bringing the vaccine to where the people are,” opined Burrill. “That site is the school. And we have a meeting of the people we want to get vaccinated next Monday. So the arguments in favour of an in-school vaccination program at this stage of the game certainly seem compelling.”

Druhan told journalists medical grade masks for teachers as well as three-ply masks for students and staff will be available at schools on Monday. So will a limited number of rapid test kits.

Druhan said Early Childhood Educators at daycare centres now have the same masks and PPE as public school teachers, although rapid tests are not yet available at daycare workplaces.

 

Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. Last year the calculated living wage for Halifax was $22.05. In other areas it was less but averaged around $20.55. These calculations are actually conservative estimates, which is why right wing think tanks have a difficult time arguing against them and instead ignore them. Any talk of what a living wage should be right now has to talk into consideration these calculations. 40 cents is not something to celebrate and a maybe $15 min wage in two years is not either. What should have been done is raise the minimum wage to $15 this April and raise it $2 every year until it matches any reasonable calculation of what an average living wage would be for the province. But right now, actually last year, that number was $20.55 an hour.

    1. The minimum wage is not ever going to reach the living wage. The minimum wage should pay for bare necessities and enough to escape as a minimum.

      The living wage is what a professional would expect to earn at minimum, and would pay all the things needed to live, not simply survive. $15 would be the bare minimum to survive these days.

      Working on closing the gap is important. Companies could alternatively offer more variable compensation plans/incentives instead of high floor wages.

      Government can make the needs of life more affordable and accessible thereby lowering the amount needed to achieve an expected standard of living.