Published Monday, June 18, 2012 12:04PM CST
Last Updated Thursday, March 19, 2015 1:20PM CST
Spring is upon us and Canada's ministers of Finance should be out walking their dogs in their new shoes by now. But in Ottawa, Joe Oliver is still 'doodling' the calendar and consulting his ouija board to find a suitable day in April. In Manitoba, Greg Dewar is waiting until April 30th, maybe hoping people will be busy getting their tax returns finished. It will be the latest budget in the Keystone province in decades, but New Democrats have been a bit pre-occupied in recent months.
In Saskatchewan, Ken Kravetz was sporting a pair of brown shoes when he tabled what may be Canada's only balanced budget the other day. I remind you again that budget-making is a truly creative art, especially in places that depend on the riches in the ground, but the finance minister in Rider Nation should win some kind of prize if he pulls this one off.
The province's revenue from oil is down more than $660 million from what it was a year ago when the black gold was selling for more than $100 U.S. per barrel. To meet the government's projections, the price will have to average $53 this year and $67 in 2016. Right now the world price is not much more than $40 U.S. and some Wall street types who are paid a lot more than Ken Kravetz are predicting that prices will fall below $40, well before the Labour Day Classic.
Hey, that must mean we'll be paying a lot less at the gas pump, right ? Not so far I'm afraid. The price of regular, in both Winnipeg and Regina dropped briefly below 80 cents a litre around Christmas and New Year's. Since then, it's been a lot higher. At a majority of the outlets in both provinces, the price is now higher than a loonie. Other than my old standby – Because They Can – there is absolutely no reason for this that makes any sense.
Welcome to spring.
What constitutes a reasonable income in 2015 ? As our economy continues to grow at a rather mediocre rate, far too many Canadians are stuck in jobs that pay not much more than minimum wage.
That's $10.70 an hour in Manitoba, and $10.20 in Saskatchewan right now. The Northwest Territories will soon have the highest minimum wage at $12.50, while Ontario will be second at $11.25. In BC, Ontario, Alberta and Quebec, you are allowed to pay folks who serve booze one dollar less, because it's presumed they will make up the difference in tips.
One of the problems with minimum wage jobs is they often don't include enough hours to be accompanied by benefits of any kind, like extra health and dental coverage. Even when someone works two or three such jobs in the course of a week, they frequently come up short and end up at food banks. That's because both food and housing costs always go up faster than incomes for those struggling to stay above the poverty line.
When the minimum wage goes up, the hospitality industry in particular complains loudly that jobs will be lost, and it will only hurt those who need those meager wages the most. It's a sad story in what is supposedly one of the fairest and most prosperous nations on earth.
For several decades, one of the alternatives that has been suggested is a guaranteed annual income of some kind. Support even comes from the Frontier Centre For Public Policy, the think tank based on the prairies that is not known as a hotbed of bleeding heart liberalism. They have quietly given qualified endorsement to the idea of a guaranteed income. They believe the savings that would result from scrapping the current tangled web of income support programs would be huge, and it would be fairer for everyone.
Might it happen anytime soon?
Probably not before the Leafs win the Stanley Cup.
I'm Roger Currie
The opinions expressed by Roger Currie and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of CTV or Bell Media or any employee thereof. CTV or Bell Media is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by Roger Currie.