Opinion: Increasing minimum wage makes sense

October 12, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s time to raise the minimum wage in B.C. — the province’s students have it hard enough.

Last month, Carole James, leader of the provincial NDP and the official opposition, raised the notion of increasing the minimum wage from $8 an hour to $10. Such a raise would take the province from having the lowest minimum wage in Canada to having one of the highest. (The minimum wage in B.C. hasn’t been increased since 2001.)

It’s important to note that Metro Vancouver has one of the highest costs of living in the country, meaning that the dollars spent on rent, groceries and utilities don’t go nearly as far as money being spent in other major Canadian cities.

None of this is lost on Canadian students. Tuition costs continue to climb (up about four per cent this year), as most full-time students continue to work part-time or take out student loans in order to support themselves. It is a common sight to see three, four or five students crammed into a small apartment or suite in any neighbourhood in Metro Vancouver, sharing the rent in one of the most expensive markets in the country.

Of course, one of the biggest arguments against increasing the minimum wage is the fact that the rise in operating costs will hit smaller businesses hardest. Opponents to the increase claim this would result in fewer jobs in the province, and in effect, make circumstances worse than they already are.

The only problem with this argument is that it is an all-too-common refrain of right-wing think tanks such as the Fraser Institute, backed up with questionable data and liberal interpretations of Statistics Canada reports.

That’s not to say that there will never be adverse effects of an increase to the minimum wage, but the effects of keeping it at a Canada-wide low of $8 are adverse enough.

Given the fact that, according to Stats Can, 59 per cent of minimum wage workers are 15 to 24 years old — a large portion of whom are students and are the future cultural, political and business leaders of the country — it is time to consider this as a sound economic investment in our future.

In fact, Ontario pays the highest minimum wage in Canada at $10.25 per hour, but remains as one of the top economic performers in the country.

It’s time to keep up with the times and raise the minimum wage in this province.

Health community ready for outbreak, but virus’s unpredictable nature could ruin plans

January 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Although he sounds fatigued, Dr. James Lu’s voice can only be described as confident when he speaks about the state of the H1N1 outbreak in B.C.

“I think the current concern is making sure the population has the correct information in terms of the level of risk or severity of the pandemic at this point in time, as we understand it,” Lu, the medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health in Richmond, said in an interview with the Kwantlen Chronicle.

In its Sept. 22 website bulletin, the Ministry of Health Services reported that 48 B.C. residents had contracted the virus so far. Among those, 21 had been sent to intensive care units and six people with preexisting medical conditions had died from the illness.

Lu said the provincial and federal governments, in conjunction with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and Vancouver Coastal Health, have followed the guidelines set out by the Public Health Agency of Canada in the B.C Pandemic Influenza Pre-paredness Plan.

Developed in 2005 by the B.C. Ministry of Health and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the 200-page document outlines the steps officials are to follow before, during and after a flu-pandemic outbreak, and is consistent with national and international pandemic preparedness protocol, according to the introduction.

Lu said that because of the plan, provincial health authorities were able to quickly and effectively track and monitor the outbreak of the virus, as well as educate the public about how to avoid getting sick. The current rates of death and sickness due to H1N1 in the Lower Mainland are comparable to those for the common flu.

“It’s quite reasonable,” he said of the impact of the H1N1 on B.C residents.

“It’s not any different from what we would expect from seasonal influenza. The sense we have right now is that the health-impact severity is similar to the seasonal flu instead of the 1918 Spanish flu that people are recalling. The majority of the cases are mild.”

The Spanish flu was a pandemic that killed over 20 million worldwide in 1918 and 1919.

Historians believe that during that pandemic, Vancouver had one of the highest rates of death of any North American city, when 795 of an estimated 4,890 infected people died, according to a June 12, 2009 Vancouver Sun article.

The H1N1 virus has made headlines around the world for being an aggressive flu strain that has killed as many as 3,486 people as of Sept. 18, according to the World Health Organization weekly H1N1 update.

However, Lu insisted that the strain isn’t as aggressive as he and his colleagues had initially thought it was.

“You probably have about 50,000 hospitalizations or so each year from the flu and you would probably would have 4,000 to 5,000 deaths a year from the flu in Canada. I think we’re doing something to help keep H1N1 in that range, but the virus also isn’t as virulent as we feared initially,” he said.

Even so, Lu is advising those who are concerned about contracting H1N1 to make an effort to get the H1N1 vaccine from their local health authorities as it becomes available locally.

According to Lu, the vaccine will gradually become available within the next week, as it is being produced in batches, and is prioritized for vulnerable B.C. populations.

Irene Lanzinger, president of the B.C. Teachers Federation, said that strategies for preventing the spread of flu among students – such as hand washing and covering coughs or sneezes – are being implemented by teachers and schools as students settle into classes.

However, Lanzinger also said that she doesn’t know of any specific plans or strategies put in place by provincial health authorities to protect students.

“The ministry of health and the ministry of education need to make sure that school boards are prepared for what might happen,” she said.

“I don’t know whether they have given instructions to school boards. We really get the sense that there is a little bit of a wait-and-see attitude out there because nobody knows for sure how bad it’s going to be. Having said that, people need to put some plans in place in case something does happen.”

Lu is optimistic that the H1N1 outbreak in B.C. won’t evolve into a greater crisis, but he is also realistic about the unpredictability of the virus as the flu season hits.

“Because most of us don’t have any immunity to it, I wouldn’t be surprised if come the fall, we do have a large number of people who become ill,” he said.

“Most of it will not need hospitalization or need to be seen by a doctor, but more people may become sick with the flu,” he said. “It may turn out that yes, this virus may be causing a little more severe illness in a healthy person, but it’s hard to sort that out now.”