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Ottawa activists call for minimum wage increase

Local gay advocate says more Ontarians go hungry due to rising price of food

Curtis Bulatovich is ACORN's youth engagement co-ordinator. Credit: Adrienne Ascah

With pots and pans in hand, members of Ottawa Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and their supporters gathered outside Liberal MPP Madeleine Meilleur's Vanier office Aug 14, calling for an increase in the minimum wage.

With the empty pots and pans symbolizing the struggle for minimum wage earners to put food on the table, ACORN is joining other anti-poverty groups in calling for Ontario's minimum wage to be raised from $10.25 to $14.

The provincial minimum wage has been frozen since 2010 while, according to Statistics Canada, food prices have risen at almost double the rate of the rest of the items used to calculate the consumer price index over the past five years.

"When you see people working so hard and they just cannot get by it motivates you to want to make a change," says Curtis Bulatovich, who was at the rally. "Raising the minimum wage will help so many people in this province."

Bulatovich, 19, has been a member of ACORN since he was 15 and became the organization's youth engagement co-ordinator in January. 

"I completely believe in equality and equity," he says. "Being a person with a disability, being a queer person, being someone who's low-income and some of the horrific stuff that I've experienced is why I want to ensure that everybody has equal opportunities."

Almost one in 10 workers in Ontario — or about 534,000 people —are minimum wage earners. Ottawa Public Health's 2011 report The Price of Eating Well in Ottawa found that households on fixed incomes and minimum wage earners usually pay their rent and other fixed expenses like heat and hydro before buying food.

"Food becomes a 'discretionary' expense, resulting in a diet of poor nutritional value," the report says. 

ACORN says raising the minimum wage to $14 an hour would be indexed to inflation, which would enable Ottawans working full-time minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. 

The rally took place outside Meilleur's office because Vanier is a low-income area. Meilleur did not meet with the group of about 30 protestors, but ACORN members say they will continue to hold monthly rallies.