Reality check: Does the NDP minimum wage plan leave out 99% of minimum wage earners?

NDP leader Tom Mulcair, seen here campaigning in Ontario, has touted his plan to create a federal minimum wage of $15 per hour.
NDP leader Tom Mulcair, seen here campaigning in Ontario, has touted his plan to create a federal minimum wage of $15 per hour. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim

Overall truthiness: True, because of the narrow scope of the attack.

Over the first few days of this epic election campaign, we’ve heard Liberal leader Justin Trudeau repeat a claim that the NDP’s “so-called national minimum wage” wouldn’t apply to 99 per cent of everyone in this country making minimum wage.

That’s a bold declaration, not to mention a virtually irrelevant policy if true.

So is it?

Before we start digging into this, a quick caveat: the federal government can only set wages for federally-regulated industries, which include telecommunications, banks, rail transportation, marine shipping and Crown corporations, to name a few.

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For everything else, the provinces take charge on setting wage rates.

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So Trudeau is telling the truth when he says NDP leader Tom Mulcair’s idea for a “national minimum wage” will do nothing for cashiers, waiters and hotel receptionists —aka many of the country’s workers who earn the minimum wage in whatever province they work.

Framing his statement that way —how many minimum wage earners in the country stand to benefit from the policy —conveniently allows the Liberals to divide the number of employees in federally-regulated industries earning minimum wage (a tiny number) by the number of employees across the entire country who earn minimum wage (a much bigger number).

But it ignores the fact the proposed NDP policy doesn’t apply to either every working Canadian (it would only apply to federally-regulated employees) or to only federally-regulated workers earning minimum wage (it would apply to all earning less than $15 per hour).

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To reach their figure, the Liberals used a 2010 report from Human Resources Canada that, using data from 2008, found a mere 416 workers in federally-regulated jobs earn minimum wage. Statistics Canada, meanwhile, pegged the number of minimum wage-earners across the country at a notch above 1 million based on data from 2013.

Using those figures, we see that 99.96 per cent of all minimum wage earners in Canada won’t benefit from the NDP plan to implement a $15 per hour minimum wage.

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Here, we could ask how relevant and applicable data from 2008 is (a lot has happened to the federal work force, not to mention minimum wage rates, in seven years), and how using that against 2013 data works, but it’s the most recent data available.

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So we’ll give this to Trudeau and the Liberals; his phrasing was chosen well and available data supports his assertion.

But there is another way to look at this.

How many people working federally regulated jobs earn less than $15 per hour, and would therefore benefit from the creation of a federal minimum wage?

Looking at it this way, the NDP’s plan stands to give a boost to approximately 135,000 workers across the country, according to data available from Statistics Canada’s 2014 Labour Force Survey.

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The figure is an estimate because Statistics Canada does not classify industries into federally and non-federally regulated. The number of employees in federally regulated jobs, therefore, was gleaned from a list of federally regulated industries available on the government’s website. Some of the classifications however are not actual industries, but criteria (“First Nation activities” and “businesses dealing with the protection of fisheries, for example”).

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The industries selected from Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey yielded a total of approximately 1.1 million employees, which matched up with the government’s numbers. Of those, approximately 135,000 earn less than $15 per hour, Statistics Canada’s numbers show. Of course, since the NDP plan is to take a few years to implement the wage regulation, that number stands to change.

So, the NDP’s plan wouldn’t help most minimum wage earners across the country (in fact, it would help hardly any), but it would help 12.3 per cent, or 135,000, of all federally-regulated workers.

With files from’s James Armstrong

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