Executive committee casts 10-1 vote against living wage policy

Regina city council’s executive committee concurred with an administration recommendation that Regina not adopt a floor wage of $16.95 per hour for itself and many of its contractors.

Regina Leader Post – Updated: October 10, 2018

All but one Regina city Councillor voted against a living wage policy on Wednesday, siding with an administration report that said it would be too expensive.

There were four options in the report. Only one would make the city a so-called living wage employer. It would require city employees to be paid at least $16.95 per hour. The same would apply to workers employed by service partners and contractors who do work on city premises.

That was a non-starter for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Its vice president, Marilyn Braun-Pollon, warned the policy’s estimated minimum price tag of $1.1 million would drive up property taxes and hurt employers.

“At a time when administration is going into budget deliberation and continues to look for internal efficiencies and cost savings, we believe the last thing the city should do at this time is adopting a costly living wage policy,” she said.

Braun-Pollon said 74 per cent of CFIB’s member businesses oppose the policy. She warned it could cost jobs, especially for younger entry-level employees who might not require a living wage calculated for a family with kids. She called it “a one size fits all” approach.

“While this idea might sound good on paper, in practice it’s impractical, with many unintended consequences,” she said. Most Councillors seemed to agree.  Councillor Sharron Bryce said the policy “would ultimately make it more expensive for everyone to live in Regina.”

Mayor Michael Fougere said those supporting the idea had their “heart in the right place.” But he views poverty reduction as more a matter for the provincial and federal governments than for the city. “The city is not about wealth sharing,” he said. “It’s about providing fundamental services for people every day.”

Ultimately, all Councillors except Ward 3 Councillor Andrew Stevens concurred with administration’s recommendation to maintain the status quo. The matter will come back up at a full meeting of council at the end of the month.

The debate dovetailed with ongoing interest in the provincial minimum wage — which is only $11.06 in Saskatchewan, the second-lowest in the country. Peter Gilmer of the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry drew on well-worn arguments to urge Councillors to get on board with the $16.95 minimum. “Low-income people spend all of their income in the local economy, boosting demand,” he told them. He called the apparent choice between wages and business “a phoney battle.”

Gilmer said he was disappointed with the outcome of Wednesday’s vote. “We felt that this was a way to put further pressure, that would be good for the quality of life for the city of Regina as a whole,” he said.

Stevens pushed those same points in defending the policy. He asked administration whether they’ve studied the impact a living wage policy could have on morale and attrition for city workers. While only six municipalities in Canada have adopted such a policy, Stevens said the evidence from other jurisdictions is very positive.

“There are net benefits that can be calculated, and some that have social and community impacts,” he said. “I didn’t see all that stuff coming out in the report.” He said the city should take a leadership role.

But Councillor Mike O’Donnell said the city is already “setting an example.” “We have a pension,” he said. “You can start with the city, you can get upgraded with the city, you can make what I hope is a reasonable salary and when you’re finished you are looked after.” Fougere agreed the city treats its employees well.

“The vast majority of employees in the city make over the living wage in any case,” he said. These are entry-level positions — they can move into a higher-level position.

“We are a good employer.”