Peter Montreuil says Hello to 2018…and the About-to-Be Unemployed

Well, 2018 started with a bang. A diva “redeemed” herself, some new laws came into force and we froze our butts off. After a week when we were sometimes colder than Mars and when Hell (Michigan) froze, the temperature is finally getting back to normal for this time of year. While Spring might not be in the air, or even just around the corner, you have to admit that it is a month closer than it was a month ago.

The first stage of the much discussed, controversial hike in the Ontario provincial minimum wage came into effect January 1st. Maybe the cold weather has made people extra cross, but there has been a lot of heated debate about this issue on every media platform, including unsocial media. I can certainly understand business owners wanting to keep their expenses as low as possible, in order to make some profit from their business. There are some questions, however, that have to be answered. What is a reasonable profit? (Depends.) What is reasonable compensation for the business owner? (Depends.) Are you, if necessary, willing to pay a little extra for the product so that wages and benefits can be increased? (I certainly am.)

When I started at the Federal Government, my hourly salary was $2.31. I worked a 37.5 hour week, with two paid 15 minute breaks and one half hour unpaid lunch daily. (Often I worked through that lunch, when we were busy. It was all part of the job.)

That was in 1976.

Now I’m retired, I get CPP and my superannuation, soon I’ll get OAS and my iron supplement for free. I pay just over $900 a month for a one bedroom basement apartment at Jane and Eglinton. Tack on $146 a month for a Metropass and I’ve spent over a thousand net dollars without eating or paying any bills. Or having any fun. I honestly don’t know how someone making even $14 an hour can afford to live in Toronto. Believe me, I saw enough hardship at my job, young people holding on by their fingertips, juggling 2 jobs with school or family, pensioners coming in because they hadn’t received their G.I.S. payment and were desperate. Thankfully we had a “Dire Needs” fax line. I also dealt with seniors in subsidized community housing who needed “rate letters” to ensure that they weren’t forced to pay unaffordable market value rent. ( I often wondered why those letters couldn’t just be automatically generated and sent out by Service Canada. )

Now, some of the opposition to this increase has come from small business owners and entrepreneurs, and there is no doubt that they face some issues, but surely these issues, like any issue facing a small business owner, could be overcome with some effort.

Much of the opposition comes from large corporations, however, who threaten to be forced to further cut jobs and hours as a result of this progressive legislation. I find that very disheartening, as they are sacrificing people’s dignity on the altar of Mammon, in the name of higher profits and more gravy for those at the top. I find that very obscene, that they demonstrate so little apparent regard for their labour force. How little apparent regard for their labour force? The following video is of an incident which happened this week in North America, and while it’s not a corporation, it is a large employer.

What I find even more disheartening, however, is the opposition from their peer group. Those of us at the bottom of the heap should have each other’s back. However, you read people posting that those jobs aren’t worth $15.00 an hour. They post along the lines of “Why should they get $15 an hour when an ambulance attendant only makes $16 an hour?” Well, obviously in this case, the ambulance attendant is underpaid. Also a lot of people seem to think that most of the affected people are students or seniors just supplementing their income. Nothing could further from the truth, as labour market statistics prove. I even had someone on a thread which I was involved in post “Not everybody needs a living wage!” What???? Some question the wisdom of  boycott action, saying that all it would do would be make the business fail. However, the point of the boycott would be to make the business owner, faced with reduced income, reverse their decision. After all, as a franchisee, they have a big stake in the situation and aren’t just going to “cut and run”. Let’s not even get into the question of whether a franchise owner could legally cut breaks or wages based on their franchise agreement. The only result of this squabbling is that the real villain gets off untouched.

This “dog eat dog” scenario extends into other areas of our lives too. Take for example the infamous “Only in Canada” broadsheet which, by means of outrageously inflated figures and frankly baffling sentence structure purports to show the “inequity” in federal government assistance between a Canadian senior and “..a simple refugee.” (Don’t laugh, that what it says.)

Having been trained to deliver the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement programs, and working beside our Immigrant Settlement section for some time, I know these figures to be patently false, worthy of The Brothers Grimm. This canard pops up every so often on the Internet, and in fact a man once showed it to me at my office desk, properly indignant look on his face. I came THIS close to laughing him out of my office. The problem is, while I know it’s false, there appear to be a lot of people who don’t. If you share it to me on Facebook, I will delete it and unfriend you.

I don’t like this adversarial attitude that seems to be prevalent nowadays. We should be cooperating and supporting each other, not cutting each other down or picking on those less fortunate than us, such as the elderly or immigrants or homeless. While we’re squabbling, our pockets are being set up for picking. The thieves who almost brought the whole thing to a halt in 2008 got off scot free, in North America, anyway. They are circling the wagons both here and south of the border, to protect and expand upon their ill gotten gains. Mark my words, the recent U.S. tax reform will hurt an awful lot of little people. I don’t think things are going to be much better up here.

Stand by our fellow citizens. Research the Labour Laws of Ontario, available online. Boycott that coffee shop, but let them know that you are and why you are, and that you want change, and not just from your double double. Don’t use those “self checkout” machines. Don’t give them a reason to reduce staff because in these days of “efficiency” and “just in time” inventory, any excuse they can use to cut costs and maximize profits will be grabbed eagerly.

Let me close with this anecdote. I became an Employment & Insurance Officer in 1981, when North America was in the grip of a recession. I saw a lot of disenchanted people, including a man who had been laid off from his brokerage firm in April. It was now October, and he was finally applying for Unemployment Insurance. I asked him what he’d been doing. He told me that he got up at the same time every day, showered, shaved, dressed, “went to work” at the usual time, looked fruitlessly for work during the day and came home at the usual time. He HAD NOT YET told his wife that he had been laid off. Horrifying as that is, it’s not the anecdote.

At work one day, I read an interview with one of the geniuses who’d come up with the concept of “downsizing”. He made a statement that frankly chilled me. He said “The only mistake we made was that we forgot that laid off people don’t buy a lot.”

See you soon


4 Responses to “Peter Montreuil says Hello to 2018…and the About-to-Be Unemployed”

  1. Nicely stated….when drastic changes are made it affects us all. Everyone deserves a “living wage” and the old minimum wage certainly wasn’t. However, drastic changes require due diligence and research, not something the Wynn government did all in the name of vote grabbing. I say those at the top forfeit a minimum of one tenth of their wages, add it to the “pot” and then apply it to their workers, the folks who actually run the businesses. It’s going to be a ongoing debate (and excuse) for some time to come. Happy New Year!!!!

  2. well said, Peter!

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