Blog | June 15, 2011

Canada should spare no expense in fight to ensure every citizen earns a living wage: Mark Chamberlain

By Bill Mah, Edmonton JournalEDMONTON—At a Tuesday event organized by the Alberta Capital Region United Way and Edmonton Economic Development Corp., prominent businessman Mark Chamberlain urged society to tackle poverty with the same level of resources used to handle crises.The former CEO of imaging-system maker Wescam and chief executive for commercialization company Trivaris Ltd. says poverty is an epidemic that business, governments, charities and all Canadians must join forces to eradicate, comparing it to SARS.“We responded to SARS in Ontario as an emergency,” Chamberlain said Tuesday.“We did not have anyone in any level of government saying ‘Can we afford it?’ ”Chamberlain — who chaired the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty — has become a strident voice for eliminating hunger, homelessness and wages too low to live on.He argued that economic growth is wrongly held as the overriding goal of society. Comparing society to a complex system like a car, too much emphasis is placed on the engine and not on other key components.“We talk about the economic engine and as long as the economic engine is working, everything must be running just great. …“Poverty is a bit like having flat tires; poverty sometimes is like having no tires.”Chamberlain argued the total eradication of poverty should be society’s goal because the return on investment is lucrative. “For every dollar invested in the early years of a child, you get $14 in return,” he said, when the savings on health, justice and social services are added up.He challenged the societal view that a living wage is economically impossible.“In the Industrial Revolution, it was OK for children to work in poorhouses. We pushed back … and the capitalist system did not fail.“If we put in reasonable incomes, would businesses adjust? Of course, they will. They always do.”In the meantime, Chamberlain urged audience members to thank every minimum-wage they encounter for allowing their lifestyles.“We have asked them to subsidize our purchases.”Social advocacy group Public Interest Alberta released statistics on living wages Tuesday to coincide with Chamberlain’s speech.There were 234,200 Albertans earning less than $12 an hour, or $24,000 a year, according to the group, which cited figures from Statistics Canada. Sixty-four per cent of those were women.A living wage in most of Alberta is considered to be about $12.25 an hour for a single full-time worker, according to Public Interest Alberta.There were 76,200 Edmontonians earning less than $12 an hour.“I think most people believe that someone who works full time should be able to earn a living wage, yet these new statistics demonstrate how too many people are far from that reality in our city and province,” said executive director Bill [email protected]

This article was published by the Edmonton Journal on June 14, 2011. Read the full article on the Edmonton Journal website.