Selections from the Political Animal’s perspective

Sean Thompson - The Political Animal (Tom Bateman/AQ)

The province is consulting about putting a tip differential on the minimum wage.

If introduced, it would effectively create two minimum wages: a lower one for tip-collecting workers, like wait staff and bartenders, and a higher one for everyone else.

The minimum wage is controversial for David Alward’s Progressive Conservative government.

Last summer, it delayed raising the minimum wage to $10/hour, a cornerstone of the province’s poverty reduction strategy, after promising otherwise.

Post-secondary education, training, and labour minister Martine Coulombe claimed small businesses needed time to adjust and insinuated the steadily rising wage ($8 in April 2009 to $9.50 last April) caused layoffs.

Coulombe and finance minister Blaine Higgs have openly mused about this change since last winter, supported by the restaurant industry. It claims a wage increase will threaten its businesses and force it to cut hours and jobs.

Tip-earning workers, including many students, often depend on the extra income from tips to make a living and pay for their education. A tip differential would hurt all of them.

Anecdotal evidence, however, shows the threat of lost hours and disappearing jobs is real and devastating those affected.

This, of course, raises more questions about Alward’s commitment to reduce poverty – he signed the all-party Poverty Reduction Plan two years ago and ran an election campaign on it last year.
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Speaking of poverty, New Brunswick’s youth unemployment rate for October, according to figures released Friday, is 18.3 per cent – up 2.5 per cent from September.

That means for every 100 people aged 15 through 24 in this province, at least 18 are actively looking for work and can’t find it. Nationally, the youth unemployment rate is an equally scary 14.1 per cent.

For a well-off, industrialized democracy that constantly preaches about how youth are the future, leaving so many of us young people unemployed while piling hundreds of millions onto a public debt we have to pay down, should be embarrassing.

I don’t know what the solution to this problem is, but it has to start with acknowledging it, by talking about it – now.
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A lot of talking happened in Ottawa last week as Parliament approved Mike Ferguson as the new federal Auditor-General – the man who tells us when Parliament can’t account for our taxes.

Much hand wringing and grandstanding occurred because Ferguson, who was New Brunswick’s A-G for five years, isn’t bilingual – contrary to the job posting’s requirements.

While I’ve every reason to believe Ferguson will succeed in Ottawa, he shouldn’t have gotten the job. In the rest of civilization, if a job candidate can’t fulfil all the requirements – especially the “essential” ones, as bilingualism was in this case – he doesn’t get the job.

Ferguson’s appointment is an indictment of everyone – the Conservative government; the opposition parties, who initially approved the nomination; the headhunting firm, who hunted an unqualified head; and Ferguson himself, who never saw the posting – involved in the process.
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Back in New Brunswick, Higgs revealed, through a second quarter report, that our province’s deficit will be nearly $100 million more than budgeted. Lower than expected tax, lottery, and alcohol revenues caused this most recent revision.

Higgs openly mused about reintroducing highway tolls and hasn’t ruled out a referendum on raising the harmonized sales tax – both highly divisive proposals.

Government also, to predictable protest, announced cuts to rural snowplowing and raised drug co-payment costs for seniors.

Please dig out the last Political Animal column and re-read it with those facts in mind. Then take a very large drink.

You’ll help the province that way, at least.

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