In a tense back and forth with NDP leader Gary Burrill, during one of the final days of the legislature’s fall sitting, premier Tim Houston explained why he’s not focused on hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
"What I'm focused on is the economy of this province and making sure that every Nova Scotian has an opportunity in this province and sees themselves as being able to thrive right here in Nova Scotia. And it's not driven by the minimum wage. I don't know many Nova Scotians grow up thinking, 'Boy, I hope I make minimum wage when I grow up.' That's not the way people think. They want real jobs,” Houston said Nov 4, in response to the NDP’s push for a $15 minimum wage.
Burrill called the comments degrading and highlighted the work of many below-$15-an hour earners who are essential, and have taken on major risks to do their work throughout the pandemic.
Houston was quick to apologize. He explained that in the heat of the moment he chose the wrong words, and that what he really meant was “better” jobs.
Minimum wage in Nova Scotia sits at $12.95 an hour, though living wage in most of the province is well above that. In Halifax, the hourly pay needed to live is $22.05, according to a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Living wage in Annapolis Valley is $21,30, it’s $21.03 in the South Shore, $19.20 in the northern region of the province and $18.45 in Cape Breton.
But across the province, 390,000 people—which makes up 52 percent of working Nova Scotians—make $15 an hour or less, according to Statistics Canada figures. Jobs within this pay bracket are in wide ranging industries, including but not limited to continuing care, retail, early childhood education, food service and home care.
And of course, the wage divide is gendered—60 percent of the below $15 hourly earners are women. It can be inferred that the wage divide in Nova Scotia is also impacted by race, though that data isn’t readily available.
Houston told CBC he isn't elitist, and noted that his father is a shift worker.
Before joining politics and rising in the ranks of the PC party, Houston's real job was working for 12 years as an accountant in Bermuda. Houston's name can be found in the Paradise Papers, uncovered in 2017, which shine a light on how wealthy Canadians are able to pay little or no taxes at home by putting their money into offshore trusts and corporations.