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Living wage increases, but parties avoid wage promises

The 2013 living wages for Metro Vancouver, Greater Victoria, and the Fraser Valley were released today, showing inflation and the cost of living in the province has increased livable wages for a family of four by up to $6,000 per year.

The B.C. Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (BC-CCPA) calculates* the living wage for Metro Vancouver at $19.62/hour, whereas the Community Social Planning Council calculated Greater Victoria's living wage at $18.73/hour, and Vibrant Abbotsford determined the living wage for the Fraser Valley is $16.37/hour.

This compares to 2008's living wage levels of $16.74 per hour for Metro Vancouver or $30,467 annually for each working parent, and $16.39/hour or $29,829.80 per parent in Victoria.

Calculations are based on the cost of shelter, transportation, food, clothing, education, childcare, health, and household needs for a family with two young children and two working parents. It doesn't include savings, credit card payments, holidays, mortgage payments, or healthcare for a disabled or seriously ill family member.

"The living wage is based on the principle that work should ensure individuals and families can live with dignity and therefore can fully participate in family, community and work life," reads the BC-CCPA's report.

A living wage doesn't have to come directly from hourly wages. Programs like the U-Pass for university students, provincial childcare subsidies, the GST rebate, and the BC Rental Assistance Program can supplement wages by providing families in need with extra income support.

British Columbia is already home to Canada's only living wage municipality -- New Westminster -- as well 34 other employers in the province. A Living Wage For Families, First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocates Coalitions' living wage campaign, has been pushing Simon Fraser University to become the country's first living wage university.

Beginning last December, First Call began pushing provincial parties to adopt a living wage for government employees as part of a provincial poverty reduction plan. None of the parties' platforms mentions a living wage, however there are some benefits offered by would-be governments that raise British Columbians' incomes closer to the living wage level:

  • The NDP is promising a poverty reduction strategy, as well as reducing childcare fees by 20 per cent, and creating a BC Family Bonus Program that offers families $60-$70 per month, per child, until they reach 18.
  • The Liberals platform reiterated promises made in Budget 2013 like the one-time $1,200 B.C. Training and Education Savings Grant for parents with kids born in 200, and a British Columbia Early Childhood Tax Benefit of up to $660 annually for families with children under six. New initiatives include back to school tax credits of up to $250 for kids in Kindergarten to Grade 12, $500 tax credits for teachers who volunteer with extracurricular activities, and funding to United Way for providing additional at-home senior support.
  • The BC Conservatives indicate their support for increasing the number of high wage jobs in the province in their Pre-election Platform and Budget and Fiscal Framework. They also promise to repeal the carbon tax, which hits families in northern and rural areas of the province harder than most. They also have committed to a strong social safety net, but did not provide details on what that means.
  • The BC Green Party's Green Book pledges support for a Guaranteed Annual Income to replace all income assistance programs, introduce universal affordable childcare, support the creation of co-ops for non-profit and low-income housing, increase low-cost therapy services, expand Medical Services Plan coverage, and create local social trusts to fund local services for families in poverty or having issues with mental health, abuse, disabilities, or addiction.

*Correction: the previous post said the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives calculated the living wage for all three areas. Correction made at 11:32 a.m.

Katie Hyslop is part of the Tyee's election coverage team. She regularly reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee and Tyee Solution Society. Follow her on Twitter.

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