The call for the city to adopt a living wage policy sufficient for a family of two adults and two children came up for debate at a Terrace municipal all candidates forum last night.
Held at the Knox United Church and organized by regional environmental organization North West Watch, the forum focused on the environment and social justice.
Retired social worker Rob Hart posed the question to the 12 council hopefuls and two mayoral candidates.
Last year, while teaching a course at UNBC, several of Hart’s students presented a draft living wage policy to council which was tabled after several councillors questioned the accuracy of stating each adult in a two-adult/two-child family needed to make $17.65 an hour.
“Would you vote yes or no for it?” said Hart of whether they would support a policy to pay all city staff $17 per hour and to also apply the policy to contracting out work to companies.
Answering yes, though some a “qualified yes”, were council candidates Brenda Wesley, Stacey Tyers, Don Dunster, Lynne Christiansen Jessica McCallum Miller, Craig Lyons, Michael Prevost, Brian Downie and Allan McIntyre, as well as mayoral candidate Bruce Bidgood.
On the “no” side were Lucy Praught, James Cordeiro and mayoral candidate Carol Leclerc.
A city study last year determined it was paying at least $17 an hour to all employees save for three seasonal student positions.
But there was no determination of exactly what contractors hired by the city were paying their workers.
Sean Bujtas said that he needed to study the idea in greater depth but said off the top of his head “no” because he thought high mandatory wage might discourage employers from hiring apprentices.
“Some jobs are introductory jobs,” Praught argued. “Not all jobs are for people who are full time. We have students who are 14 and 15 years old entering the workforce and those opportunities, whether they are working at Subway or a subcontractor for the City of Terrace, it’s important [for them] to understand how to build work ethic and understand the value of money and why it is important to have an education, and why it’s important to value your career.”
Jessica McCallum Miller argued that for young people the living wage would actually be a ticket out of poverty in some cases.
“I am full support of raising minimum wage,” she said. “For people my age it is actually very hard with the rate of inflation to survive. It is actually very hard to survive off of minimum wage … I am in full support of raising it to $15-17.”
Michael Prevost supports the living wage, however he said it is important that all stakeholders should be consulted before such a policy is finalized to find “a solution that works well for everyone.”
“We have small business owners who have one or two employees who may find it completely difficult to pay that living wage, and we as a council can come up with creative ways to find the solution,” said Prevost.
“Yes, in principle,” was Allan McIntyre’s answer in support of the living wage policy.
“It would be really nice,” said Leclerc. “But I think that what happens is if you are going to have a $17 an hour rate for everybody that means businesses are going to start closing down.”
Stacey Tyers reminded the group that the policy would only apply to the city’s employees and its decisions about what companies it hires for specific duties.
Bruce Bidgood gave an “unequivocal yes” to living wage, adding that “the city can look for a pro-living wage procurement policy as well.”
Brian Downie gave a “qualified yes”, arguing that the city should lobby the provincial government to come up with solutions to issues surrounding affordability.
In aligning himself against a living wage policy, James Cordeiro argued that the city already pays its employees a living wage and that with regards to businesses, an improving economy will naturally drive wages up.