Damoff, Turnbull want Freeland to include disability benefit cash in upcoming budget

, , Comments Off on Damoff, Turnbull want Freeland to include disability benefit cash in upcoming budget

Increasing the minimum wage, hiking pensions, and supporting the disabled may not be as politically sexy, but those decisions make Canadian lives better. 

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on April 1, 2024.

OTTAWA—Canada’s lowest paid federally-regulated workers got a raise last week.

Their hourly rate will go from $16.65 to $17.30 as the result of a government decision four years ago to peg the wage to inflation.

Back in 2021, the federal minimum wage was $15. In Saskatchewan, the current minimum wage is $14 with an increase of one dollar slated for next October.

That is the lowest minimum wage in Canada. The second lowest minimum wage is in New Brunswick, with Alberta sharing the spot for the third lowest minimum. Three other provinces are slated to hike theirs this year.

Alberta currently has no plans to increase its minimum wage.

It is no surprise that three of the provinces at the bottom of the pay scale for Canada’s lowest-paid workers are Conservative.

Not coincidentally, British Columbia has the highest provincial minimum wage at $16.75, with no current plans to increase.

Tracking the minimum wage is probably one of the easiest ways to determine the politics of any province.

Those who care about increasing the wealth of our poorest citizens are usually called left-wingers.

But if you look at the World Happiness Index, countries that have done the most to support their vulnerable citizens are on top.

During Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s the time in office, his party has worked hard to lift people out of poverty.

According to Statistics Canada, from 2014 to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the speed of poverty reduction was palpable. There were fewer people living below the poverty line, and those who became poor exited poverty faster.

That changed during COVID, with current levels moving back to where they were before the Liberals took office in 2015.

The spike in poverty is one of the reasons that dozens of Liberal MPs have signed a letter asking the finance minister to include disability benefit cash in the upcoming April 16 budget.

Liberal MPs Pam Damoff and Ryan Turnbull made the letter public last week calling the potential move a “legacy social policy” for the government.

The potential benefit stems from an all-party resolution supporting the creation of a disability benefit.

The government has been working on regulations since the bill passed last June.

The proposed federal benefit is supposed to be added to funds already going to disabled citizens from provincial coffers. However, one area of concern is the fear that some provinces will simply use federal dollars to replace the meagre provincial funds that are currently being paid to disabled citizens.

The provinces received similar cash for housing and health over several decades, and in many instances, the money was simply rolled into provincial coffers with no increase in affordable housing or health care.

Hopefully, federal disability benefits will be protected in the regulatory process.

A new federal disability benefit is one more tool to lift Canadians out of poverty.

Another tool, which received little public attention, was the government’s decision to top up old age security benefits to those Canadians over the age of 75.

Liberals are currently using X to contrast their record to that of Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.

The Conservatives raised the retirement age to 67. The Liberals reversed that decision. Poilievre voted against increases to the old age pension, the Canada pension plan, and the Guaranteed Income supplement.

The government increased OAS for older seniors by 10 per cent, which lifted 187,000 seniors out of poverty.

According to the Liberals, if they had not reversed the Conservative plan to increase the age of pension eligibility to 67, some 100,000 seniors would be pushed below the poverty line every year.

Seniors’ pensions, disability benefits, and minimum wage are not top-of-mind issues for all Canadians. But they should be.

If history has taught us anything it is that society is stronger when the gap between the rich and the poor is smaller.

The fact that poverty reduction is top of mind to dozens of Liberals means something might be done in the next budget that will help lift the disabled out of poverty.

Few federally-regulated truckers will likely be sending thank-you notes to Trudeau for the increases in their paycheques.

But they should remember that political parties can make a difference.

If an opposition party votes against pension increases, it sends a clear signal of its priorities. Poverty reduction is not one of them.

Increasing the minimum wage, hiking pensions, and supporting the disabled may not be as politically sexy, but those decisions make Canadian lives better.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.