Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett wasn’t able to participate in the Raise the Rates fifth annual Welfare Food Challenge issued to B.C. MLAs that took place in the province last week.
She explained that she was unable to participate in the challenge at this time because she has been recovering from kidney stone surgery.
“I totally sympathize with people,” Barnett said. “There are many people who for many reasons can’t work.”
The challenge issued by Raise the Rates ran Sunday, Oct. 16 to Saturday, Oct. 22 and asked MLAs to spend only $18 on food for that week.
The challenge was based on the B.C. welfare rate of $610 per month for an able bodied single person which the coalition complains has remained the same for the past nine years.
After rent and other expenses, the coalition estimates that a single person only has $18 a week left to spend on food.
Barnett notes that in addition to the basic social assistance rate, B.C. also provides a wide variety of additional supports for people living on low incomes including housing subsidies, child care subsidies, health care benefits, dental and optical care for children, additional benefits for children and seniors, and numerous training opportunities offered through employment centres, which also include child care for single mothers.
People from other provinces are often astonished to learn how much support B.C. actually provides for people living on low incomes, she said.
Many organizations such as the Salvation Army, church and missionary groups and other community groups also do wonderful work to help provide food assistance for people who need help.
Simply raising social assistance and minimum wage rates won’t solve all of B.C.’s problems, she said.
Many people are drawn to B.C. from other provinces because of the warmer climate and the benefits available here, but unfortunately end up on social assistance because they can’t find work, she said.
Job creation and training are important strategies for reducing poverty in B.C., she said.
“It is very important that private investors know that B.C. is open for business,” Barnett said. “I encourage the private sector to come and invest in mining, forestry, manufacturing, agriculture, high tech business, tourism — everything that creates jobs.”
Barnett said that raising the minimum wage always takes careful consideration because any increase comes with a corresponding increase in the cost of fuel, goods and services.
When she was in business, Barnett said she only paid minimum wage if she had an employee who was just starting out in training.
“If I had a great worker and didn’t pay them appropriately I would lose them,” Barnett said.
“I believe that very few employers pay minimum wage. Without good employees you don’t make money.”
As part of its jobs plan the B.C. government raised the minimum wage rate by 40 cents to $10.85 per hour on Sept. 15, 2016.
A second increase of 30 cents plus an amount based on the 2016 CPI (estimated to be 10 cents) will bring the minimum wage rate to $11.25, effective Sept. 15, 2017. The 2016 CPI will be available from Statistics Canada by March 2017.
Earlier this year Victoria also reaffirmed its commitment to reducing the small business tax rate by 40 per cent by 2017-18.
This would mean a small business that is incorporated with $100,000 in active business income would have its taxes go from $2,500 to $1,500, savings of $1,000 annually.