Filipino Canadian Presbyterian Pastor calls Ontario Churches to Support Minimum Wage Increase
I am writing this today, mindful of Madiba Nelson Mandela’s prophetic words: “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice.” I support the call of Archbishop Colin Johnson of the Diocese of Toronto of the Anglican Church of Canada in regard to raising the minimum wage.
I think that as churches we need to model community by working together. One way we can do this right now, across our denominations. is to have a common voice as we speak gospel to this one particular faith/justice issue of our day: The Ontario Minimum Wage.
What might happen if our churches all over Ontario collectively stood up with our poor sisters and brothers and the low-income workers in our churches/communities and demanded that our government raise the provincial minimum wage from $10.25 per hour to $11.50 per hour up to $14.50 in 2015?
The province wide campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage needs our support for our government to act on it. We as people of faith now have the opportunity to act together and add our voices to this campaign so that our representatives at Queen’s Park will want to listen.
Archbishop Johnson has published a draft motion. We can adapt it to our own contexts. And it is likely that when we discuss this in our church circles, there will be push-back. There will be people in our churches who will argue that if you raise the minimum wage, more jobs will disappear in Ontario.
What we know in Toronto is that even with the current wage-freeze, full-time work is disappearing . This reminds me that I myself am unable to find full-time work in Toronto in the last three years!
There will be church members, who are also small business-owners, who will say that this will drive up their costs and may even put them out of business. Others will contend that more industries will leave the province to go elsewhere where they can do business cheaper. When we bring this matter up in a meeting of vestry, presbytery, conference or judicatory we will hear people raising the same objections and the motion may not even pass. Sometimes the best we can do is to open the conversation.
This requires us as churches to look at the data ourselves to counter the dominant narrative that tries to frighten us into thinking that the sky will fall if poor people got better wages.
The minimum wage has been frozen in Ontario for the last three years. Ultimately the change in minimum wage will be a political decision requiring legislation. Government as always will say that it needs more time to study the matter because it seeks to balance the needs of workers with the concerns of businesses.
So as we wait in the spirit of Advent, let us talk to the low wage workers in our communities and ask them if adjusting the minimum wage will make their life better. And let us talk to the small business-owners as well, if only to get their views as equal members of the Body of Christ.
The counter-narrative I offer us today is : Poverty and inequality are not inevitable. There IS room at the inn ! The wealth of the big corporations will not be eroded by this increase. The local economy may even benefit with poor people earning more, because the poor will spend that money in their communities. It should not be the case that anybody in Ontario who is working a full time job should be living below the poverty line. And poverty and health in Ontario cannot be addressed adequately if we did nothing to increase the basic hourly wage.
There IS room at the Inn! But we (and that includes me and us as churches) by our silence on this issue have driven people like Jesus, Mary and Joseph out into the cold.
Rev. Rafael Vallejo
Queen Street East Presbyterian Church
947 Queen and Carlaw, Toronto