Alberta’s NDP government moves too cautiously, but in the right direction, on raising the minimum wage

Posted on June 30, 2015, 1:18 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: The government of Alberta’s spin on an increase in the minimum wage – what a contrast to the grim excuse-making of a few months ago! Below: Jobs Minister Lori Sigurdson (from the Premier of Alberta’s Flickr account), Premier Rachel Notley (photo by Dave Cournoyer) and Alberta Chambers of Commerce President Ken Kobly.

They may be moving too slowly and they may not plan to move far enough, but the announcement by Alberta’s New Democratic Party Government that they would raise the province’s minimum wage this fall by $1 an hour was a small step in the right direction.

Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson said in a news release yesterday the general minimum wage, currently and embarrassingly tied with Saskatchewan’s as the country’s lowest, would rise to $11.20 an hour on Oct. 1. The minimum wage for liquor servers would rise at the same time to $10.70 from $9.20 per hour, “in the first of two steps to eliminate the differential rate altogether in 2016.”

SIGURDSONJPGNot immediately eliminating the offensive and exploitive differential minimum wage for liquor servers – apparently the brainchild of Thomas Lukaszuk, Alison Redford’s deputy premier and labour minister – displays a degree of tactical timidity not necessary for a government with a strong mandate to fix such legacies of 44 years of Tory misrule.

Still, the government of Premier Rachel Notley has made a commitment to consult with stakeholders, which is a reasonable enough approach, although there can be too much of a good thing in circumstances like these. In this case, alas, it is unlikely the cutthroat fast-food employers who are the principal beneficiaries of poverty-level minimum wages will pay much attention to arguments about either fairness or basic economics.

Indeed, judging from the brouhaha among many of the usual suspects, they will do whatever they can to delay movement of the $15-per-hour minimum wage the NDP has promised to have in place by 2018.

As has been argued previously in this space, to be a living wage, the minimum wage in Alberta probably really needs to be set at about $20, but it is unrealistic to expect the NDP to go there for the time being.

As it is, most opponents on the right have been screaming mightily that having something approaching a living wage for a minimum wage will unleash in an economic apocalypse that will reduce Alberta to Greece-like penury in a matter of hours. For reasons previously discussed, this is not a very likely prospect.

Media coverage yesterday concentrated on a survey, seemingly designed to elicit negative responses to the government’s minimum wage plan, circulated to members by the Alberta Chambers of Commerce and released just in time for the announcement.

Not surprisingly, ACC President and CEO Ken Kobly warned the policy could result in reductions in employment opportunities – an outcome that is unlikely in response to a minimum wage increase, although quite possible in Alberta for global economic reasons beyond the provincial government’s short-term political control.

NOTLEYDCJPG“The recurring theme that we’re hearing from our members is that they’ll raise prices wherever they possibly can,” Mr. Kobly warned, leaving cynical observers of business to wonder … what else is new?

The ACC, like similar groups, suggests addressing the question of poverty through tax policy – quite openly advocating spreading the cost to everyone, not just low-wage employers. Of course, were that to happen, many of the same actors would soon be protesting that taxes are increasing too quickly. The ACC also wants us to believe a higher minimum wage would be bad because it would push many recipients into a higher tax bracket.

Still, in fairness, the ACC’s presentation to the government on the minimum wage was more balanced than of the fear mongering promoted by the more hysterical branches of the Canadian Outrage Industry, like the fine “fellows” as the Fraser Institute and its ilk.

The ACC calls for delays and more study, as well as the taxation option, rather predicting immediate fiscal apocalypse if the NDP fails to transform itself at once into a Conservative party. This may be a reflection of the membership of local Chambers of Commerce in Alberta communities, where many citizens want to give the Notley Government a chance to succeed.

Indeed, the 158 pages of comments submitted by individual members posted by the ACC contains some of the disdain for working people, especially youth, we have come to expect from some employers, but also plenty of support for a higher minimum wage.

KoblyIn fact, for every Chamber member complaining that raising the minimum wage “will only increase exponentially the entitlement mentality of the youth of this province” someone else seemed to be saying it’s “a good idea, it provides more income for those people that need it and will increase the income available to spend in our community” or “we support the policy shift fully.”

Research by the OECD shows that the effect of minimum wage increases on adult employment is very small, and they tend to be positive for low-wage workers even if their hours are reduced as a result, as economist Andrew Jackson has reported.

Moreover, as argued on the weekend by the Alberta Federation of Labour – which, if you think about it, has no dog in this fight, seeing as its members typically get paid well above minimum wage – low-wage employees tend to spend their money close to home on local businesses.

And there’s nothing “unprecedented” about the increase planned in Alberta, the AFL pointed out. “Ontario raised its minimum wage by 65 per cent over a shorter period in the 1970s, and the sky didn’t fall. … Just as importantly, the effective increase faced by most low-wage employers is much smaller than 50 per cent, because so few of them pay the current minimum of $10.20.”

Opponents of the NDP are trying to portray the promises it is keeping as a dangerous social and economic experiment. In reality, under Social Credit and Conservative governments, we’ve been engaged in a dangerous social and economic experiment for the past 80 years, with very little but failure to show for it.

The surprising support for a meaningful increase in the minimum wage – apparently even among many members of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce – suggests the NDP is on the right track, economically and politically.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

17 Comments to: Alberta’s NDP government moves too cautiously, but in the right direction, on raising the minimum wage

  1. Keith

    June 30th, 2015

    “THE RIGHT DIRECTION”
    You meant to write “THE CORRECT DIRECTION”, correct?
    :>)

    It should be noted that $15 in 2018 will be only $13 or $14 in today’s buying power.

    Reply
  2. Alvin Finkel

    June 30th, 2015

    The so-called “Alberta Advantage” that Ralph Klein always touted included low minimum wages and minimal unionism relative to other provinces. These were indeed advantages to a small group of exploitative employers. For most working people, and especially those in allegedly “unskilled” work and without union protection, the Alberta Advantage was in fact the Alberta Nightmare. It’s encouraging to see our NDP government taking measures that will indeed provide the most vulnerable Albertans with some advantages at long last. Like David, I want this government to move faster on its agenda and to ignore the greedy bastards who were the only people that the Tory government did not ignore. I understand why they wish to proceed with caution but I hope that they have the grit to stick to their principles and achieve everything during their first four years in office that they promised during the election. It’s encouraging that on October 1, Alberta will move from last place among the provinces in terms of minimum wage to a close second behind Ontario which will be increasing its minimum that day to $11.25.

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      June 30th, 2015

      Move hard, move fast, move often. Four years may not be long enough to get the job of cleaning up done, especially at this pace. The raising of minimum wage is perhaps ten years behind, there is no need to proceed incrementally.

      Imagine if the same strategy had been used when we first instituted Family Day. Do we start with Family M
      morning, move to Family Noon, then Family Afternoon and finally full-blown Family Day 5 years later. Some things need to be done incrementally, others not so much.

      The poor have been waiting patiently for decades, why stretch it out? By doing it this way, it allows critics to revisit the issue every time a new increment kicks in. That’s really dumb!. Do it in one fell swoop and let the critics bark for 1-2 months and it will be forgotten by the next election cycle.

      Reply
    • Expat Ablertan

      June 30th, 2015

      Amen. Of course, said “greedy bastards” only wish to move with caution when they perceive they might lose out. But cut taxes, slash budgets, and bring in temporary foreign workers…well, full speed ahead on that!

      Reply
      • Conrad

        July 3rd, 2015

        Couldn’t agree more. Because cutting taxes, slashing budgets, and temporary foreign workers are what have made Alberta a success. Undoing them will be all of our downfall.

        Reply
  3. Franny

    June 30th, 2015

    Hmmmmmm.

    Reply
    • Francisco

      July 1st, 2015

      C & C MUSIC FACTORY

      THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO Hmmmm.

      Raise the wage, we already pay our babysitter $15.00 / hour. Recently 24 hours, 24 x 15.00 = $360.
      UP THE MINIMUM!
      UP THE REBELS!

      Hurry up ffs.

      http://youtu.be/XF2ayWcJfxo

      Via: C & C MUSIC FACTORY.

      Reply
  4. Jerrymacgp

    June 30th, 2015

    So when the right wingers holler “go to school if you want to earn more”, do they ever consider the cost of higher education, and how increasing the minimum wage might improve the financial situation of post-secondary students?

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      June 30th, 2015

      “Go to school” indeed. That’s code for get your rich mom and dad to pay for your education. Right wingers know full well that poor people can’t afford school.

      Reply
  5. Carter

    June 30th, 2015

    The minimum wage is killing jobs. It should be reduced by at least $3.00 per hour, immediately. This would create full employment.

    Reply
    • brian

      July 2nd, 2015

      Completely agree with you. Minimum wage laws kill jobs.

      Reply
  6. Pogo

    June 30th, 2015

    Lucky for the poor suffering service workers who try to make ends meet on pathetic pay the Prentice machine hid a billion that can now be used to offset the apocalyptic consequences that paying the working poor will cause. Our new Premier has good policies and luck!

    Reply
  7. July 1st, 2015

    I’ve suggested that the Wildrose and PC MLAs accept an hourly rate of $10 per hour for the work they do or rather fail to do at the house of corruption— but for some odd reason, they don’t believe that they are should be paid so poorly. So odd. These wages are good enough for the poorest of the poor in Alberta but they aren’t high enough for these political duds?

    And yet these same conservative old school politicians tell us that we are –as small business owners- going to be bankrupted by the increase in the minimum wages. I don’t happen to think this will actually happen. It is more likely that the hot air from the Wildrose and PC MLAs will destabilize the marketplace more than the slight increase in minimum wage.

    The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of business owners in Alberta. Many of them are small business owners who will face a minor increase in their employment costs. But the small business sector is not being burdened. They will not be taxed more like the bigger corporations. The corporate tax increase of 2 % does not apply to small businesses.

    Also there is the small matter of the past. Under the labor antagonistic Tories in Alberta (and in the federal government) there have been decades of low corporate taxes, cheap labour provided courtesy of the federal Tories (Temporary Foreign Worker Program), plus the artificially low wages paid to the serfs at the bottom of the pay pyramid while the top dogs get the excessive pay for all chatter and no deliverables

    You just have to look at the AHS executive and compare it to the front line worker salaries—and you see how it is in Alberta. The elite get paid a lot of cash for pretend performance while the front line folks are slaving for severely small pay. It’s a scam that has been persistent in Alberta that we are supposedly to continue to believe in or else we will have employment Armageddon.

    It is such baloney. Yes, baloney. Why would I believe this junk? RIverbend is full of folks driving BMWs, Mercedes, Hummers and luxury vehicles. Many of these folks are business owners and they are doing quite fine. But of course they will all squeal they are being harmed. Yeah, right.

    Business owners don’t want to pay more because this takes away from profits. With the PCs in power for 44 years, they have been spoiled unbearably and now they will have to get used to paying up like the rest of us. We’re tired of the entitlement and whining by the corporate sector and they have to get used to paying more to employees. It is the right thing to do to ensure that the poorest folks in Alberta get to enjoy the Alberta Advantage that everyone else enjoys.

    Businesses need to understand that citizens want the minimum wage to go up. I understand that the businesses don’t want this. They want the cheapest labour they can get the federal government to provide (via the Temporary Foreign Worker Program) and that they encouraged the provincial Tories to advocate for. Why? I guess Canadians don’t want to do grunt work and they certainly don’t want to do grunt work for slave pay. Nice thing is –MOST citizens don’t have to work like slaves like the temporary foreign workers who seem to have provided an essential cheap labour pool that we never knew about since the Tories did not broadcast the gift they had provided to the business sector. It’s pretty neat how the Tories expanded a program started by the Liberal Party of Canada. However, as usual the Tories expanded this program to fit the needs of their own voter pool. I’m only surprised that Canadians found about this program’s excesses and its abuses. Luckily some folks yapped and we found out in time to boot out the federal Tories in the next election.

    While most of us don’t have to work for slave labour there will always be a pool of us who will have to work for slave wages. This may be because we were not born in rich or middle class families and we have to survive as best we can. Not all of us live in Riverbend and have all the love, family support and education that families with means can provide for their kids. Some of us have horrible childhoods, can’t get through college or university or are simply too broke to do much of the education route. I believe it’s unfair to penalize the poorest sector of our society for these facts.

    I think corporations will do just fine with an increase in the minimum wages to $15 and I agree with you that it could be boosted even higher so that families can live decently in Alberta. Just the cost of groceries alone make it difficult for families to live on this junk bond hourly rate of pay.

    I don’t know why the enthusiastic-for-slave wages Wildrosie and PC MLAs don’t want to be paid minimum wages for their blathering at the house of corruption. I think they would stop yapping about the modest increase if they had to live even for one single month with the salary of our most impoverished citizens. It would actually be a good exercise for all MLAs, MPs and councillors to live on such a salary and maybe then they would shut up about the minute increase in the minimum wage as if it were the end of life as we know it in Alberta.

    In addition where are their facts about job losses if the minimum wage goes up? I would like to see these MLAs who are yapping about job losses due to a modest increase in wages, actually provide us the proof of these job losses. Actually I would like to see these same MLAs —form part of this so called tide of job losses. Too bad Albertans didn’t boot the entire conservative group out of the house of corruption. But we won’t make this mistake the next time around. Now we have seen the mean spirited greed of these folks in their chatter at the house of corruption– we will understand just how they are inside themselves. Impoverished.

    So sad. The Tory way is the selfish way. The Tory way is the 44 years of corruption, incompetence and secrets. I still don’t know how they managed to get away with that Tapcal Fund business and I am really curious who paid into this slush fund.

    Reply
    • keith rondeau

      July 2nd, 2015

      I think the tories took there eyes off of one of the most important jobs of government.. ive heard republicans talk about the texas miracle and from everything ive seen there is one part of the miracle that is real, texas pushed policies to keep housing prices low… nothing impacts our finances like rent or mortgage pricing that has gotten out of control in this province. A good idea would be stopping the developers from financing aldermen and mayoral candidates to get distorted rules.

      Its time to get off the real estate bandwagon… alberta needs a pause in housing prices.. both rent and housing costs have gotten ridiculous

      Reply
  8. David Grant

    July 12th, 2015

    I wholeheartedly agree with this measure, even though it isn’t moving fast enough for the service workers who really need a wage increase. When I started working at the Wainwright Hotel, in Heritage Park, in 1981, a case could be made not to raise the minimum wage as this wasn’t the job that people would depend on to make a living. How things have changed since that time!!!! The NDP has to make these changes in this way in order not to piss off the business community who are looking for every excuse to criticize the new government. It never ceases to amaze me the misunderstanding people have of the NDP policies. This is a result of years of propaganda and brainwashing from the media, the think tanks and the culture at large. It is good that it doesn’t work as much as it used to.

    Reply
  9. David Grant

    August 16th, 2015

    I saw that the Alberta Party for Calgary Foothills candidate has a post from business owner that he thinks that raising the minimum wage would hurt restaurants even though this is the only wages that people can get. I would be very interested to see what their proposals are, but they are beginning to sound like the old PC Party.

    Reply
  10. August 16th, 2015

    The problem is; there is no money and there is going to be far less come a year from now. More thousands will be laid off. Kenya and Nairobi have an agreement to build a 6.5 billion dollar pipeline to Nairobi’s coast. That will add another 100,000 plus barrrels per day to the glut.

    China has announced going into the market with “new oil” while Japan has successfully launched it’s first of 6 Nuclear plants doing away with their need for natural gas and much fuel. (the west were charging them 15.00 per mcf on gas they were buying for 3.00 mcf)

    The US state department has been very reticent on just what the deal was with Iran. My guess would be another 100,000 or 200,000 barrels showing up at Cushing Il. as part of the deal. And, the US is running out of storage in all 5 of its petroleum districts while the 11,600 miles of new pipeline between them is nearing completion.

    Over the next 10 years we have one chance an that is an east-west Canadian pipeline. Serve our own country rather than import as we do from Venezuela. There is a bit of crap holding up the line that would be Wynn who is holding out for a new refinery paid for by the west.

    We are somewhere between the outhouse and the woodshed as the saying goes, holding a candle for light.

    The NDP have to move very cautiously or they will be screamed at for mis managing non existent funds.

    Harper’s trillion or so that he is in the hole doesn’t count.

    Reply

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