A recent vow by New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Thomas Mulcair to institute a $15 federal minimum wage is prompting mixed reactions from students.

Last week, Mulcair said that he would put forth the notion of a $15 per hour minimum wage to a vote in Parliament. In 1996, the Liberal government eliminated the federal minimum wage in favour of provincial minimum wage laws.

“Improving the minimum wage is key to reducing income inequality and building a fairer economy,” Mulcair said in a recent press release. Provincial and territorial minimum wage laws range from $10 in New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador to $11 in Nunavut and Ontario.


Matthew Li, an upper-year economics student who works a minimum wage part-time job, said that balancing work and school is often challenging, but is necessary to avoid taking on excessive student debt. “I am taking on student debt to get my degree… I could probably get a better job and make more money somewhere else, but I don’t want to because I am comfortable where I work and my boss is flexible with my schedule,” Li said, adding: “I have friends who work other jobs where their bosses schedule them when they have class and through exam periods, and I don’t want to risk having to worry about that… I am pretty sure that I will be able to pay [my debt] off when I graduate.”

Li said that life as a student working on minimum wage is difficult, but expressed concern that increasing the minimum wage may not be the right solution. “Being a student and living on minimum wage isn’t only hard — it’s becoming impossible without the financial support of outside sources or family. That being said, raising minimum wage that dramatically will only drive up inflation… The number will become irrelevant, because prices will adjust along with it,” Li said.

“Life is expensive and Toronto is particularly expensive, but this is what we choose as students attending the University of Toronto,” he added.

McKenzie Embree, a third-year environmental studies student, said that increasing the minimum wage would have little impact on large corporations, but could negatively affect small businesses. “I don’t think that raising [the] minimum wage to $15 is a good idea. Large business and corporations like Chapters and McDonald’s can afford to pay their employees that kind of money without a major change to the franchise, but this will initially really hurt small business like privately owned bookstores, which are already suffering,” Embree said, adding: “[I]t will negatively affect the unique places that give Toronto its culture.”

According to Mercer’s 2014 Cost of Living Survey, which measured the comparative cost of over 200 items in 201 cities, including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods, and entertainment, Toronto ranked 101.

Similarly, some have argued that Toronto’s transit system is the most expensive among large, North American cities with single-fare public transit. While most other Ontario universities provide free bus passes to their students, the University of Toronto does not.


The Ontario Federation of Labor (OFL), a federation of Ontario labour unions that represents over one million Ontario workers from 54 affiliated trade unions, publicly supported the proposed federal minimum wage increase.

Sid Ryan, OFL president, said that an increased minimum wage would benefit low-income workers by bringing the minimum wage above the poverty line. “We believe that the minimum wage needs to be raised because people cannot live on $11.50 per hour. We originally supported a $14 per hour move, which would place minimum wage at 10 per cent above the poverty line. We want everyone above the poverty line,” Ryan said, adding: “[The NDP’s] move of $15 per hour is something we support because it maintains our goal of 10 per cent above the poverty line if it were to take place when he projected it.”

The OFL also advocates for the limitation of part-time work, as some workers may have to work three or four jobs to earn a living, and urges workers to join unions to facilitate improved negotiation between workers and employers. 

Ryan added that the OFL works closely with the Canadian Federation of Students. The $15 per-hour campaign is meant to tie in with student campaigns, as many low-income workers are students. 

In terms of student-specific support, Ryan said that being a member of a students’ union is one of the best supports students can have. “Students can be exploited, there is no question about it. When it comes to large employers…we see a lot of student exploitation,” Ryan said. 

“Young workers will see when they graduate that the good jobs that their parents had no longer exist, and a union is the best day to get the most out of our employers,” he added. 

University support

Yolen Bollo-Kamara, University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) president, said that the proposed federal minimum wage increase would be an important step, but noted that it would only affect the small number of Canadians working in federally regulated in dustries.
“Adjusted for inflation, the average minimum wage across Canada is the same as it was in 1975, but students are now working twice as long — more than 16 weeks, for a year of tuition for an Arts & Science student — to make enough to pay their tuition and ancillary fees, excluding other necessary expenses such as books and other school supplies, housing, transportation and food,” Bollo-Kamara said.
“This means that our generation has to work much harder than previous generations to make ends meet,” she added.

The UTSU is also a participant in the campaign to increase Ontario’s minimum wage to $14.

Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T director of media relations, said that the university is committed to supporting low-income students in a number of ways. “The University has put significant resources toward meeting our 1998 Policy on Student Financial Support, which states that ‘no student offered admission to a program at the University of Toronto should be unable to enter or complete the program due to lack of financial means.’” 

Blackburn-Evans added that the U of T provides financial aid to students in many different forms, including through non-repayable grants and scholarships. The university provides approximately $160 million in financial support each year. 

The university also provides support to students through a variety of career-oriented programs, allowing students to find both on-campus and off-campus opportunities. This year, according to Blackburn-Evans, the university’s work-study program offered 4,200 positions in areas such as research, event planning, marketing, customer service, administration, and finance.

Blackburn-Evans also said that university administration continues to work with other stakeholders to improve transit options for students. “[S]tudents at the University of Toronto Mississauga supported a referendum to pay — by way of their compulsory, non-academic incidental fees — for a U-Pass valid for Mississauga Transit. The TTC provides discounted metropasses for post-secondary students and the university community continues to work with the TTC on service improvements, including the new Rocket bus service between Kennedy Station and UTSC,” she added.

The next federal election is tentatively scheduled for October 19, 2015.