With a department funding scheme and PGSD top-up totalling $25-30k out of which tuition and life have to be paid, I find it hard to balance money. Given the hours worked this equates to $7.29/hr. With pay that low and the stress as high as it is, it's impossible not to wonder if I'd be better off in a minimum wage position flipping burgers. It makes me question the value of the research that I'm doing and the value of me and my time.
I'm 26 and living with 5 roommates because I can't afford to pay any more for rent in the city. I've put off even trying to have a social life or significant other at this stage because that money would have to come out of some other budget category. To save to take the bus to see someone, I might not go home and spend all night in the lab instead. While I'd love to be an academic, I don't know if I can sustain myself with wages and hours the way they are. Definitely looking at positions in Europe because of the better wages and work-life balance.
If graduate funding was CAD $35,000/yr for all students, how would that change your life? Being an increase of $5-10k, it wouldn't be perfect but it would relieve so much stress. I'd be able to afford to buy milk. I'd be able to save for the eventuality that my computer and research lifeline stops working. I might even be able, if everything goes my way, to put a small quantity into long-term savings (Compounding works best with lots of time. I'm young, this is when I need to be able to save.). It would also be nice to have a little leeway when moving to start a postdoc as relocation is expensive and rarely covered. I also think that research outcomes would improve. Stress, particularly financial, takes a large toll on your mental capacity. If I can free up just a little bit of space in my mind, I'm sure I'd be able to think more creatively and work more efficiently. $35k still isn't very much in some parts of the country, but it's a far cry better than what I get now.
Additional comments: There is a real difference between the poverty line and a sustainable income. Even in rent-controlled Montreal, the bare minimum annual income after tax to live with dignity was ~$30k a year and a half ago. That's well before the current inflation spike.
Grad students are well aware that they're the backbone of Canadian university research which is, for the most part, of international renown. We should be recognized as such and treated accordingly.