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Some candidates cautious of living wage

Campaign asks nominees to endorse anti-poverty policy

A campaign urging municipal candidates to adopt a living wage policy if elected provoked varying responses from Richmond City Hall hopefuls.

The Living Wage for Families Campaign has called on all civic election candidates in B.C. to help low-income families in their cities by passing a living wage policy if they get the public nod on Nov. 19.

Currently sitting at $18.81 per hour, the living wage's primary determinants, according to the campaign formula, are income from employment less family expenses.

Thus, the living wage is the hourly rate of pay at which a household can meet its expenses once government transfers have been added and government deductions have been subtracted.

The target wage does not include: credit card, loan, or other debt/interest payments; savings for retirement or for children's future education; owning a home; anything beyond minimal recreation, entertainment or holiday costs.

The Living Wage Campaign is asking municipalities to become living wage employers. Or better yet, follow the example of businesses like Vancity credit union which is committed to paying the living wage, not only to their direct staff, but also to contracted staff in traditionally low-paying sectors such as cleaning and security.

The News canvassed some of Richmond's election candidates about how much weight they'd place behind the push for the living wage in their city, which last year earned the dubious distinction of having the highest concentration of people living in poverty in B.C. at 26.1 per cent.

Both incumbent Linda Barnes, of the RCA slate, and former school board chair Linda McPhail, of Richmond First, stopped short of all-out support, but would like to see the living wage possibility fully investigated.

"We do pay our employees a living wage," said Barnes. "When we contract out work, that's not something we've been asking, but it is something we should perhaps be looking into. We would, however, have to investigate the ramifications.

"Some organizations, I think, may find it difficult to comply though. But as a leader, it's something we, as a city, should certainly be looking at."

McPhail said she's interviewed staff at the City of New Westminster, which became the first municipality in Canada to adopt a living wage policy.

After discovering the living wage had gone up more than $2 per hour in 18 months, however, she's concerned about the knock-on effects for Richmond.

"I asked the finance staff at the City of New Westminster what were the cost implications of applying the living wage rate and they said that at the time of adoption (April, 2010), no staff were affected," McPhail said.

"As to - contracts with the city, I was told that they request contractors to pay a living wage but have no idea if the contractor incurs the cost or not.

"I am also concerned about the effect on collective bargaining and wage negotiations."

McPhail found that living wage employers must also apply and recertify as a Living Wage Employer every two years.

"There may be extra staff costs associated with this."

RCA candidate De Whalen, said she "fully supports" the living wage.

"If elected, I would urge city council to at least investigate what the wages are for the contracted out services," said Whalen, a longtime advocate in Richmond for lowincome families, poverty and affordable housing.

"We would go for the New Westminster model. They investigated it first, but found that their contracted services were pretty close in the first place to the living wage.

"But it's not just the wage, it's the benefits that go with it as well. I think it cost the taxpayer in New West about one quarter of one per cent of the annual budget. It was a really low cost and it set up New West as a model employer."

When people are paid a living wage, said Whalen, the money stays in the community.

"It goes to your neighbours, local businesses such as the corner store. It doesn't usually go to the Bahamas."

RITE candidate and current school trustee Chak Au is also fully behind the push, but tempered his enthusiasm by suggesting New Westminster and Richmond are not two peas in the same pod.

"I support the concept behind the campaign that - from my research, the living wages policies have taken many forms in different places and the actual effectiveness for improving the lives of low-income workers depends on the scope of coverage, the implementation and enforcement provisions," Au said in an email to the News.

"If elected, I will actively explore the options relevant to the Richmond context."


The 29 mayor, council and school trustee hopefuls running in next month's civic election will get a chance to state their cases at a series of all-candidates meetings.

The meetings, all of which are open to the public, will be hosted by: ? Richmond Chamber of Commerce: Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 6: 15 p.m. for mayoral and councillor candidates, Executive Airport Plaza Hotel (7311 Westminster Hwy.);

- Richmond Centre for Disability: Tuesday, Nov. 8 at 6: 30 p.m., for mayoral and councillor candidates, Minoru Place Activity Centre;

- Richmond Community Services Advisory Committee: Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 6: 30 p.m. for school trustee candidates, Richmond Cultural Centre.