GIVEN the latest Statistics Canada report on booming employment numbers in Ontario since the introduction of the $14 minimum wage, I’m eagerly awaiting the announcement of the big winner of the Fraser Institute’s student essay contest.
When it was announced this past January, it was all made to sound like a civic-minded gesture. Fifteen hundred bucks to the winning kid.
But not content to let facts speak for themselves, as usual with all things Fraser, it set out to fix the game. The topic for these student essays? “Increasing the Minimum Wage: Good Intentions, Bad Policy?”
Before sending the students on their way, the institute wanted them to understand what it would take to win. It demanded that contestants accept a couple of premises. First it claimed, “Proponents of a higher minimum wage tout that such increase will be an effective tool for helping those in poverty.
“But a recent study by the Fraser Institute found that 88 per cent of minimum wage earners in Canada do not actually live in low-income households.”
If that isn’t enough to assure a biased finding, there was more. The institute went on to state, “Beyond the misperception that the majority of the benefits from an increase in the minimum wage would go to low-income earners and the most vulnerable, raising the minimum wage has been shown to lead to reductions in employment, particularly for young people and immigrants.”
Both statements have been proven repeatedly to be flat wrong.
Statistics Canada finds that teenagers and students accounted for only about 31 per cent of people earning minimum wage in last year. The much bigger group earning minimum wage is either the lone breadwinner in a household or a spouse in a dual-income household.
That remaining 70 per cent are closer to 40 years of age with about a third of them having college or university degrees.
Sadly, I was not eligible to enter the essay writing contest but if I were, here’s what I’d have offered.
The Fraser Institute is a registered charity. It pays no taxes. How it gained and maintains that status, given that its entire reason for existing is political action, is a mystery. It is not the “independent international research and educational organization” it pretends to be. Its motto is, “If it matters, measure it.” Of course, the last thing the institute wants is any form of actual fair or fact-based measurement.
It is not some impartial think-tank. It has consistently attempted to undermine national health care, workers’ rights, environmental groups and pretty much anything that falls afoul of the political leanings of their wealthy contributors such as the multi-billionaire Koch Brothers and the Libertarian Donner Institute.
If the Fraser Institute really wanted to make a difference in students’ lives, it would examine, impartially, issues such as child poverty, gender discrimination and crushing student debt. Of course, that is not its agenda.
Whoever is the lucky winner, you can rest assured that the essay will never report that warnings about job loss and business closures are pure nonsense and that Ontario’s jobless rate hit an 18-year low in July. When the province raised the mandatory hourly rate 21 per cent to $14 in January, businesses and their trade groups warned of employment losses. But, as the Globe and Mail reports, “six months later, Statistics Canada data show that has not happened. In fact, Ontario’s labour market is on fire.”
I don’t have any cash prizes to offer and, unlike the Fraser Institute, I pay taxes. But if I were encouraging essays, they wouldn’t be focused on maintaining financially repressive regimes that disadvantage the lowest paid in our society.
Dan Oldfield is a former CBC reporter and lead negotiator for the Canadian Media Guild and currently a partner in Syzygy Learning and Facilitation. He divides his time between Oshawa and Thunder Bay.