New Democrats reignite the minimum wage debate

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

On Tuesday, Thomas Mulcair’s New Democrats introduced a doomed-for-failure motion in the House of Commons, which would reinstate a federal minimum wage and increase it to $15/hour. 

Even if the motion somehow passed it’s affect would be limited  it would only apply to those workers who belong to a federally regulated industry such as banking, air transport and radio and television broadcasting. 

It has, however, re-ignited the debate about the efficacy of raising the minimum wage, for all workers, across the country  a debate that has reached grand proportions in the United States. 

"Here in Canada, the minimum-wage debate has been trapped in a time warp," the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Trish Hennessy wrote in an essay praising the New Democrats for introducing the motion. 

"Provincially, any attempt to increase the minimum wage on a steady basis has been overly cautious, muted by a loud and powerful business lobby.

"[The NDP motion] is the beginning of a national conversation about the inadequacy of the current minimum wage level. It’s the beginning of a national conversation about the value of a minimum wage that is a living wage — one that can actually help a household pay all of its most basic bills, such as housing, transit to work, child care, and food."

[ Related: Canada’s opposition NDP proposes C$15 federal minimum wage ]

On the other side of the debate is the Fraser Institute. 

"We must move away from the emotional arguments and good intentions and look to the evidence on minimum wages," the free market think-tank’s Charles Lammam recently told Yahoo Canada News.

There has been scores of independent academic studies looking into the effect of past minimum wage increases. The overwhelming majority find negative effects on youth employment and no effect on poverty reduction.

"The evidence is clear: minimum wage hikes reduce employment opportunities for workers with less qualifications and experience. 

While the Fraser Institute has mused about the rationale of ‘no minimum wage’, others argue that our lowest wages are fine the way they are. 

According to Bloomberg, Canada’s real minimum wage  adjusted for purchasing power  is the ninth highest out of the OECD countries. 

[ Related: Can Tom Mulcair steal the spotlight away from Justin Trudeau?

While the debate is sure to continue, the NDP have now become ‘the voice’  the champions if you will  for raising the minimum wage. 

This policy measure will distinguish help the party distinguish itself from the Liberals, re-establish its space on the left of the political spectrum, and should solidify its relationship with the unions. 

You can call it pie-in-the-sky, you can call a conversation starter or, like the Fraser Institute, you can call it bad economics.

For the NDP, their minimum wage motion was good politics. 

(Photo courtesy of The Canadian Press)

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