Poverty, Labour, and Housing News Roundup – Mid-November

11-8-17

It’s been a busy news week again for social and economic change in Canada! In this week’s blog, we thought it may be helpful to look at some of the big things happening at the regional level that could impact the lives of those in poverty.

Ontario’s Bill 148 and The Social Assistance “Roadmap for Change”

Ontario is in the midst of some large changes. For example, the last hearings for Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, were held last week. The Bill, broadly supported by anti-poverty and labour groups, has already been through some changes. In its current form, it makes significant changes to areas like emergency leave, requires equal pay for equal work between part-time and full-time workers, and new scheduling provisions that obligate employers to pay workers for shifts cancelled within 48 hours of the start time.

As you may have read, much of the debate over the Bill has centred on the increase to minimum wage. As it stands right now, Bill 148 would raise minimum wage to $14 per hour on January 1, 2018, and to $15 on in 2019. This would be followed by annual increases at the rate of inflation. While some CEOs and organizations have come out against the raise, calling it “too much, too soon”, some Ontario businesses are applauding the change, saying that paying a higher wage pays off in terms of employee turn-over, loyalty, and health.

This move has significant implications for Canada’s international human rights obligations, as United Nations Treaty Bodies, including the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights who, in 2016, called for Canadian governments to ensure that minimum wage be set at a level to “allow a decent living for all workers and their families.”

Unions like Unifor continued to call for amendments to the Bill to support worker access to unionization and bargaining at the final hearing. Bill 148 now heads to its third reading.

Last week, the Ontario government also released its “Roadmap for Change” report on income security in the province. The provincial panel tasked with developing the report articulated a number of changes to the government’s current social assistance scheme including:

  • A 22 percent nominal welfare increase over three years, and in recognizing the specific poverty experienced by single people on social assistances, an “urgent” increase over three years to bring monthly benefits for a single person on Ontario Works to $893 from $721 (a cumulative increase of 24 percent);
  • A new housing benefit to begin in 2019 and expanded health benefits for all low-income people in Ontario, starting with prescription drug coverage in 2020; and
  • A cumulative 16 percent increase to the Ontario Disability Support Program would boost rates to $1,334 a month by 2020.

Québec’s Pension Progress

Meanwhile in Québec, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced on November 3rd that the Québec Pension Plan (QPP) will now mirror the enhancements of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) that passed into law last year.

Québec residents will now pay more into their pension plan, but will receive more in retirement. Workers who make $40,000 a year will now pay $365 more a year into their pensions, and upon retirement, those workers will get $3,320 more annually—increasing their yearly public pension to $13,320.

In addition to supporting current Québec residents, this harmonization between the QPP and CPP means workers can move between all ten provinces and three territories while maintaining the same pension coverage.

The enhancement announcement was welcomed by groups like the Québec Federation of Labour (la Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec), who called it “major victory for future retirees”. With the rate of seniors living in low-income on the rise in Canada, it is critical that strong social protections are in place for people entering retirement.

What’s Coming Up

We’re seeing lots of movement at regional and national levels – and it’s about the get more exciting.

Stay tuned for an announcement on the National Housing Strategy (NHS) later this month. At CWP, we’re hoping the government heeds our calls for a strategy that incorporates a human rights approach and takes steps to concretely realize the right to housing for all people in Canada.

Want to stay up-to-date on what’s happening on the national poverty and housing front? Sign up for CWP’s e-newsletter here!