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Minimum is far from living wage

Canadians are watching the labour situation in Ontario and Alberta, which recently surpassed Nunavut as the jurisdictions with Canada's highest minimum wages.

For almost a decade, Nunavut has held top spot in the minimum wage rankings but Ontario now sits at $14 per hour and Alberta at $13.60 per hour. The NWT will soon place third at $13.46, surpassing Nunavut's $13 per hour rate.

Ontario and Alberta, two of Canada's financial engines, are set to go higher still to $15. Alberta will be the first in October, followed by Ontario next January. The rate is considered a watermark to ensure as few people as possible are left behind as average wages and the cost of living increase.

The minimum wage increases have set off a firestorm among the private sector in Ontario, Canada's most populous province, and Alberta, the province with the highest gross domestic product per capita (note: the NWT's GDP per capita is much higher).

A war between the provincial governments and business has working poor in the crossfire. Tim Hortons franchisees, in particular, are working to minimize the effects of the minimum wage changes by dropping benefits and paid coffee breaks.

The Tim Hortons franchisees, often relatively wealthy due to their affiliation with the brand that guarantees a good income, are crying poor and claiming traditional methods of increasing revenue –i.e. increasing prices –are controlled by head office, not by franchisees.

Their ridiculous argument that they can't afford the increase, or that they can't raise the cost of their coffee and high-profit food products by a small amount is magnified by competing independent coffee shops that are proudly increasing their base wage to more than the minimum. These small business owners are taking a risk but believe their customers will sympathize and continue to patronize their shops.

In Nunavut, businesses have to pay more than minimum simply to get people to apply and take the job.

If Nunavut can give an opportunity for Inuit, there is a lot of forgiveness available. Government and hamlets will gladly train and work to retain even the toughest to employ candidates. Once trained, these workers can make a good living and rise in the ranks.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) says people working minimum wage jobs often work more than 40 hours per week to make ends meet. These people tend to be the most marginalized in society – Indigenous and new Canadians, especially, we're told.

Those facing the most challenging circumstances will find minimum wage almost not worth it here, as social housing rates are tied to income. That income needs to be high enough to justify the effort.

As a result, Nunavut's $13 minimum wage is seen in legislation only. It's hard to think of an employer that actually pays that little.

No one can pay less than that and expect to attract employees, and people won't work for less than that if they're in public housing. Even the Tim Hortons in Iqaluit pays more than minimum.

The Government of Nunavut should set the minimum wage closer to $20 per hour. With a one-bedroom apartment in Iqaluit averaging $2,000 per month, PSAC's $15 per hour target wouldn't pay the rent, let alone cover other bills.

Beyond the fact that the minimum wage barely covers the cost of living in Canada's most expensive jurisdiction, Nunavut's leaders have a chance to show they take care of the working poor.

It's time for a raise.