By Orion Keresztesi
The Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage rallied outside of the Ministry of Labour this past Wednesday at noon. It was an energetic crowd of 75 to a 100 people, a mixture of minimum-wage-earning members of the Workers’ Action Centre and their allies from Toronto anti-poverty organizations and the labour movement.
It was the latest in a steady series of monthly rallies and outreach blitzes the campaign has been organizing since March of last year.
The campaign has pushed Ontario’s poverty-level minimum wage into the public spotlight. It forced the provincial Liberal’s decision in January to raise the minimum wage to $11 and made Premier Kathleen Wynne to directly respond to the call for a $14 minimum wage.
In the aftermath of the provincial election results and in the face of a new Liberal majority, speakers at the rally aimed their remarks at Premier Kathleen Wynne.
Andria Babbington of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council acted as the MC. She kicked things off by warning Wynne that she can’t take her votes for granted, “we are watching” and she had better “live up to her promise that no one will be left behind.”
Reverend Maggie Helwig spoke on behalf of the more than 50 Anglican parishes in Ontario that have called for an immediate raise in the minimum wage to over $14 an hour. Her message to the new majority government was, “you can do this, and you have no excuse not to.”
Sid Ryan, president of the OFL, noted that the campaign was being brilliantly run. He also called out the Ontario NDP for their weak stance on the issue, saying, “we need champions in the legislature – people who aren’t embarrassed to stand-up and say, ‘This is right.’”
A 25 person delegation of the campaign’s allies attempted to deliver a 40 foot long petition to the Minister of Labour, Kevin Flynn. Director of Communications, Tom Zach, came out of the ministry offices to accept the petition on the minister’s behalf, saying that the minister was unavailable today, but he would deliver the petition directly to the minister himself.
The delegation included faith leaders, labour leaders, nurses, teachers, and students.
Alastair Woods, provincial chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, spoke directly to Tom Zach, telling him that raising the minimum wage is not a complicated economic issue, as the Liberals and business associations have tried to claim. Woods stated it is “a matter of courage and justice.”
The gaggles of bright red balloons that strain upwards above every $14 minimum wage action, reflect the atmosphere of the campaign, exuberant, persistent, and up-lifting.