How much does it cost to live in Esquimalt?
What would you say is the absolute minimum “living wage” required to adequately survive financially (i.e. live) in Esquimalt and to maintain a modest quality of life for you and your family? Well, the BC Community Social Planning Council, based on a series of living cost essentials, calculates the required living wage as $17.31 per hour for an average adult with a spouse (both spouses employed) and two children.
Following a presentation to Esquimalt Council this week from Christina Peacock of the BC Community Social Planning Council asking Esquimalt to adopt a “living wage” policy, Councillor Randall Garrison moved the following Notice of Motion:
WHEREAS residents of Esquimalt face a high cost of living for basics such as food, clothing, shelter, education, and childcare and those costs often drive young families out of our community;
WHEREAS money spent on paying a living wage, the hourly wage required to cover the necessities for a family, largely re-circulates directly in the community where it is earned providing stimulus to local businesses ;
WHEREAS BC has the highest child poverty rate in Canada with more than half those children living in families where one parent works full-time and raising incomes of poor families is the most direct way to reduce child poverty;
WHEREAS competition for contracts to provide services to the Township should always be based on efficiency and quality of service provided and never simply about who can pay the lowest wages; and
WHERAS direct costs to the Township of implementing a living wage policy should be relatively small and all employers paying a living wage benefit through reduced absenteeism, better employee retention, higher morale and higher productivity levels;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Township of Esquimalt develop a Living Wage Policy;
AND THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff be directed to bring back a report to Council on the policy outlining the expected benefits and costs of a living wage policy and a draft bylaw with options for implementing a Living Wage Policy for all full and part-time employees of the Township and all contractors doing business with the Township.
Garrison stated that this was directed at helping people of all working demographics: “Many people who grow up in our community cannot afford to stay here,” stated Garrison. “We are talking about basic necessities to live.”
Mayor Barb Desjardins and Councillor Don Linge, however, expressed some concern with how this policy would discriminate against many local small businesses that provide services to the municipality. “Fair wages is absolutely what we all strive to do,” said Mayor Desjardins, “But, if we are supporting this, we need to be reminded that we are spending other people’s money.”
In the end, Council unanimously endorsed the notice of motion in principle and sent it on to staff to prepare a draft policy that will be further debated and voted on by Council at a later date.
Essentially, this would mean Council taking a stance on social policy that could greatly improve the finances of working families or greatly hurt the finances of local small business employers…..depending on how you look at it. Taxpayer finances would also be impacted in that our taxes are the main revenue source for paying the municipality’s workers. Increasing municipal wages to a higher threshold will cost taxpayers more. Others would argue, however, that taxpayers could potentially benefit through savings in social spending. As people living in poverty gain increased incomes, then the costs of subsidized social assistance funding may correspondingly decline.
In any event, it would mean a big change for both employees and employers including tax payer-funded employers. Council will likely want to tread carefully into this social policy territory that has some real financial policy implications. The City of New Westminster is the only other British Columbian municipality to adopt such a policy.