Living Wages in British Columbia

Community Organizing Ideas and Issues

Living Wages in British Columbia
November 14, 2008
      Vancouver John Anderson and Judy Duncan of ACORN Canada and I had a fascinating meeting brainstorming with Seth Klein director of the British Columbia office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.  CCPA sets the standard for solid research on progressive policy measures and partners with our long time friends at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in the US on various matters.  Seth had reached out for me through Joel Solomon, my friend from our long work with Tides, who has made his home in Canada and has made quite a contribution here as well.  What Seth had on his mind was “living wages,” because of an extensive study they had recently completely trying to establish a living wage level of basic family needs in metro Vancouver and Victoria.
      The methodology was rigorous and exacting.  The bottom line indicated that “all in” the requirement for a living wage in metro Vancouver would be $16.74 per hour or $30,467 per person for each parent working full-time.  The minimum wage for the area is around $8.00 per hour, so this discussion is double that standard.
      I say “parent” advisedly, because one of the unique features that Seth and his colleagues put together in their analysis was a prototype not simply for a worker, but for a working family assuming two young children.  They were trying to construct a “model” wage based on what was required to support a family.  Looking through the budget was sobering for me as an American, because I could also do the quick mental calculation that a wage on this methodology would be another buck higher or likely more once the additional health insurance burden was factored into the equation. 
      We had an extensive and enjoyable shoptalk conversation comparing notes on campaigns in Toronto and the US cities.  Seth was focusing on what I would call a “contract” campaign of setting the prevailing wage at this $16+ level for any subcontracts of municipal or related public bodies.   We were not sure how extensive such contracting is, but one could see putting together the cities throughout the metro Vancouver region to embrace the logic of a living wage.
      ACORN Canada strongholds like New Westminster and Surrey might be possible areas for such initiatives.  Vancouver itself might also be a bellwether here.  Elections in all of these municipalities are this Saturday, so all of us will be counting the votes first, before spending the loonies at a higher living wage.  Fortunately, Seth and CCPA have done an amazing job at assembling the factual foundation on which such campaign and political victories can be built in British Columbia.