Bill 148 & OHIP+ are only a start

The new policies regarding financial accessibility are only good for students


Given the financial instability faced by workers under the age of 25, the implementation of policies like Bill 148 and OHIP+ are long overdue. However, if we broaden our scope, it’s clear to see that little action is made to address the financial inaccessibility most of the population faces.

In accordance to Bill 148, Ontario’s minimum wage has increased to $14.00 an hour. Since the bill’s proposal, there’s been speculation from both the public and experts about how this will affect unemployment rates and market prices of everyday goods and services.

For us at Students Against Poverty (SAP), food insecurity has been a big focus. The purpose of the increased minimum wage is to ensure that each Ontarian can meet their basic needs with respect to inflation, but such issues require more nuanced thought. While it’s a liveable wage, it’s caused a ripple effect across the economy. According to Stats Canada, food prices, on a year-over-year basis, has rose 2.3 percent in January 2018.

This raise is evident in restaurant prices. As operating costs increase in the food industry, there will be less incentive from business owners to keep grocery stores and restaurants open in lower-income neighbourhoods. Since people won’t be able to keep up with the rise in price, there will be more urban areas where it will be difficult to by affordable fresh food.

Since students are a profitable target market, business owners are unlikely to withdraw from university districts. To keep stores open in places that don’t have a booming post-secondary population, the burden would be put on the shoulders of the already disadvantaged.

To understand what other students think on the matter, we reached out to the Queen’s University Conservative Association (QUCA) for their view. Member Aidan Scott, a second-year undergraduate student and entrepreneur said, “the issue with using a minimum wage to reduce poverty is that it’s not a well-targeted anti-poverty measure.”

To him, the raised minimum wage negatively affects the most disadvantaged people who become excluded from the labour market as prices climb.

Companies can not handle a one-size-fits-all solution to curbing the effects of the rising cost of living. “The cost structures are different,” explained Scott. “Food industry has razor-thin profit margins and can’t afford to raise wages for greeters or baggers like, say, a window cleaning company who have higher flexibility in setting the price of their service.”

It shouldn’t be forgotten that income inequality has increased in Canada over the last 20 years. The divergence in wages has been reflected by the Gini coefficient. The coefficient has rose by a worrying 0.2 points out of maximum score of 1 in the past three decades.

To truly bring a fair wage to all, there needs to be consideration of the diverse economic backgrounds of specific communities and industries. For example, to bring income equality to food service workers, wage controls might be more effective if those at the top of the pyramid had their wages compressed, with the revenue redistributed to those at the bottom.

Another effective piece of legislation passed by the Ontario government is OHIP+. Rolled into effect on Jan. 1, Ontario residents 24 years and younger can now receive some prescription medications for free.

The obvious intention of the policy is to provide stability to the health of a population that arguably faces the most financial instability. With our money already going towards school, rent and food, this legislation is an important step forward to helping Ontario’s younger population.

In a country that prides itself in providing universal health care, it now seems ironic there used to exist a huge economic barrier to receive necessary medical prescriptions and treatments. OHIP+, then, is a deliverance of old promises.

Previously, the ODB was known for its inaccessibility despite the medicine it provided being essential. Of these include mental health treatment drugs such as antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs. Lifting the financial burden of healthcare that exists on top of tuition fees encourages attention to students’ wellbeing and opens the doors for disabled persons.

Even though OHIP+ looks great on the surface, it doesn’t help all Canadians. People ages 25-65, who make up the largest portion of the working population, aren’t reaping the benefits of what their tax dollars pay for. This population is the most susceptible to work-related injuries.

To learn more about how this rings true, we spoke to one student about how their mother must pay $60 for a simple dose of antibiotics, an exorbitant price for someone who gets paid a minimum wage. For some people in this situation, they’re vulnerable to the sinkholes that health policy makers implement.

Whether it’s waiting times in emergency rooms or a sort of subsidized prescription medications, the average Canadian will still see little change in the health care system.

The responses to these policies have been divisive. Where high-profile corporations jump to defend potential lost profits, trade unions and policy analysts describe them as a step in the right direction. At SAP, we have sided with the latter. To effect real change, we can’t stop here.

Both policies continue to fail to bring change to where it’s most needed. While it’s great that it helps us as students now, what will these policies do for us once we graduate? If things don’t continue to develop, the lowest-wage adult workers will still be left struggling all the same.

Victoria is a third-year biology student and Education Lead, Max is a second-year political science student and Public Relations Lead, Cindy is a second-year computer science student and Chair, and Stephanie is a third-year economics student and marketing lead.

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