Over the last few months, I have been talking to New Brunswickers across the province about the issues that are most important to them. The concerns raised most often are that our children and grandchildren are leaving to find work and the hole that is left behind in our family, our community, our economy and our hearts.
What can we do to stop this trend? First we can raise the minimum wage. By keeping our minimum wage low relative to other jurisdictions, we are simply encouraging youth to leave for higher wages elsewhere. New Brunswick already has the oldest and fastest aging population in the country, and with skyrocketing healthcare costs and a shrinking workforce, this is not a recipe for success.
The New Democratic Party will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over our first term, following in the footsteps of other provinces like Ontario and Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec. This move, when combined with a package of labour reforms, will help curtail youth out-migration and remove the enormous stress of daily life for many working New Brunswickers who are not able to make ends meet.
Along with other long overdue labour reforms, an NDP government would conduct a comprehensive review of employment standards in the province, making necessary changes to labour laws to protect workers from precarious employment where their hours are kept low to avoid paying benefits. Casual and part time work itself adds enough stress to workers’ lives without the added burden of not having prescription or dental coverage or a pension plan.
New Brunswick is unique amongst all the provinces in that it has the highest proportion of workers making below $15 per hour – over 36% of all workers make less than a living wage. If you live in a typical New Brunswick neighbourhood, chances are that one of your neighbours is struggling to pay their bills at the end of the month.
As I and my team knock on doors, we encounter many people who are working their fingers to the bone, holding two or three jobs, working crazy shifts, and still can’t meet their basic financial obligations – let alone save for their future. Even if they are not in dire circumstances themselves, many have family members or friends who are experiencing significant financial stress and they understand the need to raise the minimum wage.
Working women are disproportionately represented in low paying precarious work – typically 50% more women than men. Low wages are bad for the economy too. Low incomes depress economic activity and lower purchasing power and tax revenues.
The Liberal government says that they have raised the minimum wage three times. But a nickel here and a quarter there doesn’t move an individual’s financial circumstances ahead, let alone feed a family. They have said that youth, seniors, and women returning to work don’t need a living wage. But why not? Who does that leave left behind who does deserve one?
Our plan takes concrete action to fight growing income inequality and provides the leadership to increase standards for all workers. We cannot prosper and thrive in New Brunswick unless each and every one of our workers can live on their wages. Other provinces are now moving to recognise the harm to all of society when we have too much income inequality. It’s time we did too.
Without the youth and their enthusiastic participation in the economy, we are only continuing the downward spiral. The NDP is the only party with a plan to break that spiral. Isn’t it time to try the NDP approach?