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New West Record: Living wage policy draws kudos from across nation

March 1st, 2010 by Theresa McManus - New Westminster's The Record

The City of New Westminster is getting kudos from poverty and health groups from across Canada after becoming the first Canadian city to agree to establish a living wage policy.

A living wage is often defined as being the minimum hourly wage that's necessary for a family of four, with two parents working full-time, to pay for food, shelter and other daily needs. City council voted unanimously to support a living wage policy that's tied to an hourly rate established annually by the Living Wage for Families campaign.

"New Westminster is the first city in Western Canada - why not be the first city in other things as well," said Coun. Jaimie McEvoy. "The pioneers would be proud."

After representatives from ACORN Canada - the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - asked council to adopt a living wage bylaw, McEvoy encouraged council to consider the issue. He didn't know if it would fly, but he thought it would at least initiate dialogue.

McEvoy has received a lot of reaction to Monday's decision, almost all of it positive. The Canadian Cancer Society applauded the decision, saying poverty is one of the determinants of health, while the Canada Without Poverty organization said the living wage movement is a step toward ending poverty in Canada.

Child Care in Crisis!


ACORN members are concerned that the BC government has made deep cuts to child care and a service badly needed by families in our community. Studies show spending on child care programs and early learning is an investment that returns $2 for every $1 invested.  We are calling on the BC government to commit to adequate funding for a community-controlled, universal and quality child care system.

  • ACORN members are calling for the following issues be addressed:The income threshold for an average family of four is increased to accommodate the current realities of “working-poor” parents. This will allow more deserving parents to access the child care subsidy, and will prevent working parents from being cut off subsidy after a small rise to their incomes.
  • Access to child care subsidy services must be more readily available to the general public. Many parents are unaware of the subsidy and do not know where to go to get help.
  • The application process to apply for subsidy be simplified.

ACORN members and working mother of two is exasperated about the cut backs to services regarding child care subsides at the ministrys’ office: “Five to six years ago, you could walk into a social assistance office if you were low income and talk to a worker about subsidy eligibility and applications. These days, the services have been cut or farmed out to limited non-profit offices in the lower mainland."

News Leader: What constitutes a fair wage?

There’s an old saying that if you pay peanuts, you’re going to attract monkeys, but Gordon Campbell clearly doesn’t see things that way.

There are currently no plans to increase the $8-an-hour minimum wage his government introduced back in 2001, the same year he implemented the Dickensian “First Job/Entry Level” minimum wage policy of $6 per hour for new employees with less than 500 total hours of previous work experience.

Most would agree the province’s minimum wage is not even close to being a living wage as it is pretty much impossible to live on $16,000, the net annual income for someone working a 40-hour week.

To some extent, the onus is falling on municipalities to pick up the slack.

Burnaby city council has implemented a policy that all city contractors have to pay their construction workers a union-equivalent “Fair Wage” while New Westminster is considering becoming the first municipality in Canada to adopt a “Living Wage” bylaw that would pay all municipal workers hourly wages substantially higher than the bare provincial minimum.

EMC: Ease taxing times at Vanier's free tax clinic

In terms of filing your taxes, that is.

For the second year in a row, the Vanier-based activist group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) will be hosting a free tax clinic through the tax season. The office fully opened up at ACORN HQ at 81 Montréal Road, Unit F, on Tuesday, March 2, and runs until Saturday, May 15. Tax filing day is Friday, April 30.

While Acorn offered a satellite tax filing office in Hintonburg in the west end last year, the operations have been centralized in Vanier for this year.

"It's better to have it concentrated in one location. All of our information is here," said Centretown resident Matthew Bullock is the group's tax site coordinator, during the media launch for the program on the morning of Friday, February 19.

The Province: Protesters demand improved child care for poor

B.C.'s child care subsidy program is not working for the working poor of Surrey, says community group B.C. ACORN.

Sara Salaway, a Surrey mom who heads B.C. ACORN's child care committee, led a protest Tuesday outside the Surrey office of the Ministry of Children and Families.

"The working poor looking for child care, it's a difficult task," Salaway, a mother-of-two, told The Province.

She said child care costs are typically $700 to $900 a month and the government subsidy -- which ranges from $200 up to $750 per month -- is not available for families earning more than $38,000.

"If they make more than [the threshold] they don't quality for any kind of help," she said.

Salaway also said it's hard for families to find out information about the subsidy program, and wants to make it easier to obtain. "It's word of mouth," she said. "You need to know the services are out there."

Next month, B.C. ACORN intends to ask the City of Surrey to open a municipal-run childcare centre, which would be run as a pilot program by the municipality, in a partnership with the community.

Early Living Wage Campaign Win

BC ACORN members are celebrating this week after a vote on New Westminster City Council in support of investigating a Living Wage Bylaw for the municipality.  The vote, held on Nov 30th at New Westminster City Hall, instructs City staff to investigate the costs, benefits and viability of a Living Wage Bylaw by February 2010. 

Led by Councilor Jamie McEvoy, New Westminster has joined the ranks of Canadian municipalities looking at enacting Living Wage Bylaws – and may be even the furthest along.  BC ACORN members along with allies plan on working with City staff to ensure the report they submit back to council appreciates the full benefit of a Living Wage Bylaw.

If New Westminster were to pass a Living Wage Bylaw, it would be the first Canadian municipality to do so after over 100 American municipalities.  ACORN members will be holding events over to coming months in support of the campaign and their vision of a fair and equitable BC for all.

Living Wage Campaign Launch

BC ACORN along with allies from Labour and Community groups will be hosting a campaign launch for the New Westminster Living Wage Campaign.

The campaign aims to win a municipal bylaw in New Westminster that would require that a business receiving tax dollars to pay their employee’s a living wage. Living Wage bylaws are used in over 100 American jurisdictions and aim to end the practice of using tax payer dollars to subsidized poverty wages.

The Campaign launch is happening at New Westminster City Hall (511 Royal Avenue, New Westminster) October the 17th at Noon. We hope we can see you there.

There are currently several Canadian municipalities at different stages of evaluating Living Wage Bylaws for possible implementation. For more info on Living Wage Campaigns check out the Living Wage Resource Centre at: http://www.livingwages.ca.

Member Profile: Tom Page

Like so many ACORN members, Tom Page first got involved as a member when a community organizer knocked on the door of his apartment in the Vancouver suburb of New Westminster.

The message of ACORN as an organization out there standing up for working families immediately resonated with Tom who has struggled for years living on BC’s Provincial Disability Program that has been frozen for years despite the skyrocketing cost of living.

Tom came to his first ACORN meeting shortly afterwards in the Whaley Chapter where members talked and planned action around tenants issues and other community concerns.  Since those first encounters with an ACORN organizer Tom has become one of BC ACORN’s leading members and has worked on the campaigns for tenants’ rights, a national affordable housing strategy and fair remittance rates for working families.  “I enjoy working with active and positive people who are committed to improving our communities and our world.  Most of the challenges that face us would be overwhelming if we tried to engage them alone, but with teamwork we can make a difference” he said.

As an active leader in BC ACORN Tom is now taking leadership in starting to get a Living Wage Campaign up and running in New Westminster.  By working with allies, helping build support for the campaign, and meeting with elected officials Tom has become a model of leadership in his community.  Something he attributes to that first knock on his door from an ACORN organizer – signing up as a member “Then and there”.

ACORN Organizing in the Spotlight

ACORN Members Featured in News Stories Across the Country!

Toronto / Ottawa / Metro Vancouver – Whether it's Landlord Licensing or a National Housing Strategy, ACORN Members are getting organized to win real change, and they're getting noticed.

Check out these quotes about our work:

From The Editorial Page of the Star on July 16th:

"Yet another report, this one from low-income people themselves, has blasted the federal government for failing to do enough to provide affordable housing in this country.  ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, gave the federal government an F in all four housing measures it analyzed in its report, released last week."

From the Toronto Sun on July 5th:

"The city is committed to establishing a landlord licensing regime, said Councillor Howard Moscoe…The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) wants the city to create programs that protect tenants and equalize their relationship with landlords. They want rental units to be inspected the same way restaurants are routinely reviewed and have the inspections posted."

From the Vancouver Metro on July 11th:

Members of ACORN were in Burnaby yesterday to demand the establishment of a housing minister and distribute their report card... "We have a huge crisis," she said. "The feds are rolling in surpluses … Where does that money go?" Cynthia Wiens, a resident of an affordable housing complex in Surrey, said that money should be going toward more social housing.