- by David McLaren

There’s a new billboard in town and people are noticing. That’s somewhat unusual for billboards. One goes up and you might glance at if few times. Then it comes down and the next one goes up.

This billboard is behind Tim Horton’s in Owen Sound where cars line up every day for coffee and a snack and where

a few folks who clearly need more money in their pockets hang out. That’s the north side.

The south side faces City Hall and the Farmers Market.

Its message is “If you’re working for a living, you need a living wage.” It’s a message intended for workers who find themselves short of cash at the end of the month, and for employers who can afford to pay their workers more. It’s for politicians who refuse to make a living wage a policy for their own staff and a requirement for contractors who want to do business with the City (as other cities in Canada have already done).

It’s been 7 years since I first brought the social and health problems caused by precarious work to the attention of Owen Sound City Council, Grey County Council and Bruce County Council. They all dropped the ball and the conversation. And the dangers of low income work still haven’t percolated through the halls of the Ontario Legislature.

Precarious work includes the kind of work you get when your employer says, “I’ll call you if I need you,” or when your boss expects you at the last minute to work an extra shift, or when your employer refuses to give you time off with pay for a medical emergency or to recover from COVID.

Precarious work can be dangerous work, as the guy I talked to at Timmy’s indicated when he told me he had been injured on the job, and hospitalized, eleven times.

But the one thing all precarious work has in common is pay low enough to make living precarious.

Inadequate pay means you can’t afford decent housing. It means you can’t afford healthy food. It generates all sorts of problems and dramatically increases the use of the health care system (especially ERs).

In fact, Dr Bloch at St Michael’s in Toronto prescribes money for his patients. His staff help his patients find sources of funding they may not be aware of and educate them about the monetary benefits of deductions and credits only available by filing income tax returns. He reports seeing these patients’ health stabilize and improve after their incomes go up.

Ontario Liberals were slow to raise the minimum wage and Ontario Conservatives put a hold on it. It currently stands at $15.50. But it’s still a poverty wage, unless you work two or three jobs and never see your family.

The Living Wage for Bruce-Grey, as calculated by the United Way is a little higher than $18 an hour. But that was before the pandemic. Now it’s got to be north of $20.

A Living Wage allows a family to own a car (a real necessity in rural regions) and keep it insured. It means families can afford better food, maybe a decent place to live and perhaps (if inflation doesn't take too big a bite) a movie or a dinner out. It’s the bare minimum for a relatively healthy life.



Final Report of the Precarious Work Group (2015 as presented to Grey-Bruce Councils)


Toronto doctor “prescribes” income to poor patients


Analysis Shows 'Quiet Fleecing' of US Workers—Not 'Quiet Quitting'—Is the Real Problem


Owen Sound dock workers’ strike 1908. ‘Owen Sound has a Long Labour History’


It’s one of the worst times to be an Ontario worker.






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