Today, Ontario’s minimum wage increased to $10.25 an hour.

When I started working at the Daily Bread Food Bank in 2004, it was $6.85—a rate that it had been frozen at since 1995. As Communications and Issues Marketing Coordinator, I regularly used this as an example of how government could address poverty. The vast majority of people who use food banks do so because they must make a decision between paying the rent and buying food. There is no shortage of food in our society, but too many people lack the financial security to pay for it and to make their own choices in what they eat.

Five years ago, we calculated that a single adult on minimum wage would need to make roughly $10-$11 to afford both a place to live and feed them self. So on the one hand, the provincial government deserves major kudos for tackling the minimum wage with significant annual increases. On the other hand as a result of inflation there is still a way to go before minimum wage earners receive a living wage that is now estimated to be about $13.82 locally.

A living wage. Is that so much to ask? Why should anyone work at a rate that they cannot afford to take care of their basic needs such as shelter, food and clothing? Would you want to?

Unfortunately, a proposal by Opportunities Waterloo Region (a coalition of anti-poverty groups) to get the Region of Waterloo to implement a living wage for its staff and give preference to contractors who did the same received a rough ride before a decision was made to take no action.

While the local proposal had no effect on the legislated minimum wage in Waterloo Region or the province, today’s increase reminds me about why I felt so strongly that the Region should adopt a living wage policy. What follows is the text of an e-mail that I sent to Regional Councillors from Kitchener in January.

The Living Wage is truly in the Waterloo County barn-raising tradition

As a Kitchener voter, I wanted you to know that I strongly support the Living Wage proposal that is before Regional Council and urge that it be passed by the current council–or if that is not likely, that you support the motion to defer the decision until after the upcoming election.

When I worked at the Daily Bread Food Bank, we advocated that people should earn enough money that they could look after their basic needs on their own. I was proud that an organization that could easily have cried poor ensured that it paid its staff at least a living wage.

The Living Wage is truly in the Waterloo County barn-raising tradition. While we live in a prosperous community, you know from the Region’s responsibility for social assistance and housing that our prosperity is not shared equitably. The Region of Waterloo should seize this opportunity to ensure it always pays a living wage and gives preference to contract out work to others that do the same. While the move may be largely symbolic, it would demonstrate great leadership on how we deal with people living in poverty while at the same time helping to avoid the chance that anyone paid directly or indirectly by the Region needs to turn around and use social assistance, get a child care subsidy or use a food bank. The time to act is now.

I think that every public and charitable organization should pay their adult staff a living wage. I find it difficult to reconcile paying a lower wage with a desire to help people and improve our quality of life. Sure there are economic and even business considerations to consider but I believe that with sufficient planning that all of these organizations can develop a plan to phase in wages over a number of years that mean their employees do not need to live in poverty.

I hope that after the fall elections, we have a Regional Council that is willing to demonstrate leadership on this issue and adopt a living wage policy.

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