Alberta Politics
Alberta Labour Minister Jason Copping, left, and minimum wage “expert panel” chair Joseph Marchand at the government’s newser in Calgary (Photo: Government of Alberta).

Kenney Conservatives find the perfect policy panel to push the working poor back to penury

Posted on August 16, 2019, 2:30 am
8 mins

If pushing the working poor back into penury is your policy objective, the United Conservative Party led by Premier Jason Kenney has found the right collection of ringers to stack its “expert panel” on rolling Alberta’s minimum wage back to pre-NDP levels.

Labour Minister Jason Copping introduced the panel yesterday in Calgary, with lots of the usual folderol about how cutting poor people’s wages will “restore jobs and prosperity to our province.” The prevailing opinion of the economics profession is that it won’t, but just never mind about that.

Restaurants Canada VP Mark von Schellwitz (Photo: Screenshot of CBC Vancouver broadcast).

The two academic economists the UCP found obviously have the right jobs to lend a veneer of respectability to the panel and the ideologically required viewpoint to ensure it reaches the right conclusions.

Anindya Sen of the University of Waterloo attacked the idea of a $15 minimum wage for Ontario in a Financial Post column and a market fundamentalist think tank’s publication, the CBC reported in an excellent dive into the panel’s makeup. Panel chair Joseph Marchand of the University of Alberta has published a commentary for the same think tank saying much the same thing.

So this is a pretty good indication of how Mr. Kenney’s advisors go about finding their experts.

Other economists, and not particularly radical ones either, were screaming about this on social media last night. “There’s no evidence the minimum wage increase ‘killed thousands of jobs’ in Alberta in general or among young people in particular,” tweeted the University of Calgary’s Trevor Tombe, quoting some of Mr. Kenney’s made-up tweetery. But who needs evidence when you’ve got an expert panel?

Other panelists include two professional lobbyists for groups that incessantly attack minimum wage increases and working people’s rights: Richard Trustcott is B.C. and Alberta Vice-President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business; Mark von Schellwitz is Western Canada VP of Restaurants Canada.

Journalist Mark Lisac (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Restaurants Canada, as readers of this blog will be aware, was founded in 1944 as the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association to oppose wartime measures by the government of prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to aid the desperate fight against Nazi Germany. Why? Because rationing and menu price-controls to help beat Hitler were cutting into restaurateurs’ profits!

Mr. von Schellwitz, based in Vancouver, is a prolific author of op-eds decrying restaurant industry living wages wherever they are considered. These essays, dutifully reprinted by Postmedia’s newspapers, typically argue now is not the time for wages to go up. (Pro tip: For these guys, now is never the time for wages to go up.)

Another favourite argument of groups like Restaurants Canada and the CFIB is that if foreign owned fast-food chains have to pay their employees a fair wage, they’ll have to stop serving bad coffee and blotto burgers at 3 a.m., or, God forbid, go out of business.

This never seems to happen, but no one ever asks if things are so bad why businesspeople continue to shell out literally millions of dollars to open Tim Hortons and McDonald’s franchises in Alberta.

CFIB VP Richard Truscott (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Other panel members include a couple of business owners who opposed the minimum wage increase by Rachel Notley’s NDP, and three restaurant servers. Not to slag waiters, it’s an honourable job, but at best they have to worry more about what their anti-union, anti-minimum-wage bosses think than the welfare of working people generally.

At worst, they may not be exactly what they appear to be. For example, thanks to the good reporting of the CBC, we now know that one of the servers, Delphine Borger, is the half-sister of the owner of the restaurant where she works, who in turn sits on the board of Restaurants Canada. This important factoid was not mentioned by the government in its announcement.

It’s interesting to note that one of the other servers comes from the same restaurant, and the only women on the panel, the three servers, are on the employee side of the employer-employee relationship. Think about that for a moment.

Appointing lobbyists to write policy and legislation is nothing new in Conservative circles, of course. In Donald Trump’s Washington, it’s standard operating procedure.

How this often works in Canada was described in the moderate words of the estimable Alberta journalist Mark Lisac, discussing the approach being taken by Ralph Klein’s government back in 1993: “The new method for making public policy tries on the surface to put the job into the hands of the general public and in particular into the hands of groups directly affected. It actually keeps a controlling power in the hands of the government, a government which relies on the mass appeal of a popular leader.

“It tends to stifle criticism on grounds that the people have spoken, although some people have a stronger voice than others while some may have no say at all. It tends to devalue debate. It separates political decisions from elections.

“The effect of such ideas has always been the same: to make it easier for part of society to impose its will on another part.”

As the former president of a notorious neoliberal Astro-Turf group himself, it shouldn’t surprise us Premier Kenney sees strategic potential in this approach. Still, the makeup of this panel suggests his government isn’t even trying very hard to pretend any more.

The panel will first meet at the beginning of September. It will doubtless wait until after the federal election on Oct. 21 to deliver its recommendation on how to roll back the minimum wage from the vicinity of a living wage to something much less without provoking window-smashing barista riots on Whyte Avenue and Kensington Road.

26 Comments to: Kenney Conservatives find the perfect policy panel to push the working poor back to penury

  1. ronmac

    August 16th, 2019

    So I see this Mark von Schellwitz is on the panel which is ironic. Because I’m willing to bet it’s guys named “von” are the reason why we ever got minimum wage and labour relations laws in the first place.

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      August 17th, 2019

      Nice one! One for the political economy geeks!

      Reply
  2. Bob Raynard

    August 16th, 2019

    Something the CBC story didn’t mention, is that in 2015 Alberta’s minimum wage was, I believe, the lowest in Canada. Progressive Conservative politicians would pretty much acknowledge that there should be an increase, but then pull out the always useful excuse that David mentioned, ‘now is not the time’.

    As a result, by the time the Notley government was elected Alberta had some serious catching up to do. What was the industry’s response? Its too much too fast.

    Reply
  3. Farmer Brian

    August 16th, 2019

    The July Statcan report on employment certainly was not optimistic for Alberta. A loss of 14000 mostly full time positions. Employment decreased notably in accommodation and food services and natural resources. Further down in the article it points out that year over year employment in natural resources has declined by 15000. I was surprised to see a drop in accommodation and food services in the summer, you would think at the height of tourist season it would be all hands on deck. Trevor Tombe says that the minimum wage hasn’t killed thousands of jobs, in July it appears something killed 14000 jobs. As for the premise of your article, do I agree with the creation of a panel to study whether or not the minimum wage should be lowered for liquor servers? My guess is the outcome has already been decided. Enjoy your day.

    Reply
    • Political Ranger

      August 16th, 2019

      Nowhere in StatsCan reports at any time since they began publishing do they say ‘why’ employment is rising or falling. You, sir, are guilty of misrepresenting correlation with causation. And since this is what I’m talking about, I’ll do some of my own. You do this on purpose and with full knowledge of the deflection and misrepresentation of the facts and the truth.
      This is a common and on-going disease for you kinda people. Y’all would do well to leave your ideology at the door and apply yourselves to the truths and facts presented.

      Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      August 17th, 2019

      “Trevor Tombe says that the minimum wage hasn’t killed thousands of jobs, in July it appears something killed 14000 jobs.”

      Actually, Trevor Tombe has tweeted that declining oil prices is the culprit. I’ll see if I can find his tweet and post it…

      Reply
    • Farmer Dave

      August 18th, 2019

      Farmer Brian, you stated ‘I was surprised to see a drop in accommodation and food services in the summer’, this can’t be the result that food producers and landlords are getting record profits and forcing up the cost for food services and accommodation. It must be those greedy minimum wage earners that are causing financial problems for the UCP government and Albertan’s.

      Reply
      • Farmer Brian

        August 19th, 2019

        To be efficient I will reply to all 3 of the above. Political Ranger, I really didn’t speculate on causation, I simply said that “something killed 14000 jobs”. As for leaving my ideology at the door I thought the whole point of a political blog like David’s is ideology and looking at events from a certain ideological standpoint.

        Expat I would happen to agree, there is no doubt that oil industry activity is very lack lustre. The largest job component in the oil industry is in exploration and drilling and the companies that service those industries. The oil companies have concluded there is no point in increasing production when existing pipelines are basically full. Interesting to note that the much maligned Koch brothers have left the oil sands, another foreign investor gone.

        Farmer Dave, I can only speak for food producers. The prices we recieve for our crops have trended downward for the last 2 years. From tariffs on pulse crop like lentils and peas put on by India which lowered pea and lentil prices substantially to China no longer buying Canola and other commodities. Realistically if you compare what recieved for our grain 40 years ago and adjusted it for inflation we are receiving less than half of what we did then. Enjoy your day.

        Reply
        • Farmer Dave

          August 24th, 2019

          Farmer Brian you need to get out from under the dome and the past. 40 years ago farmers were farming small production like 500 acres of crop. Today farmers are farming over 100,000 acres of crop and much more efficiently and doing very well, however the loss of jobs seems to be in the oil and restaurant sector. Beef producers are making record profits and restaurants depend on beef/steaks for their customers. The farm land I rent to a producers is doing very well. Just today my wife and myself joined a few friends at a restaurant and the prices are very high, high cost of agricultural products, and in the future we plan not attending and socializing at home. Maybe those greedy minimum wage earners are the issue or is it those greedy agricultural producers the problem. You tell me and enjoy your day.

          Reply
          • K. Larsen

            August 24th, 2019

            Dear Farmer Dave: Farmer B is correct that adjusted for inflation farmers now receive less than half for their products than they did 40 years ago. You can check any inflation calculator for confirmation. 1976 barley was about two bucks. Now it is five – an effective loss of 400% when adjusted for inflation. Don’t get me started on how grain farmers have gone from being paid in US dollars to being paid in less valuable Cdn dollars, an effective pay cut of over 25% since 2011.

            The National Farmers Union has published many studies on this. The big winners in all this are the Ag processing firms and the grocery retailing oligarchs.

            Your tenant-farmer is large because of this cost/price squeeze. If you chew on the Stats Can numbers on “realized net farm income” you will find most of this apparent farm prosperity is because of welfare payments from Ottawa and record low interest rates. 80% of those welfare payments go to the largest 20% of farms. All that glitters, including nice green farm equipment, is not gold.

            But hey, farming unorganized farmers has always been a lovely way to have, if not earn, a living.

  4. Simon Renouf

    August 16th, 2019

    John Kenneth Galbraith described what was once known as Reaganomics as the doctrine that the rich were not working because they had too little money and the poor because they had too much.

    Reply
    • Albertan

      August 16th, 2019

      Thanks for mentioning John Kenneth Galbraith, the Canadian economist who was “long at the center of American economics, in key positions of responsibility during the New Deal.” I actually bought, and read, his essay, “The Economics of Innocent Fraud.” To quote the description in the book cover, “Sounding the alarm about the increasing gap between reality and ‘conventional wisdom’ – a phrase he coined – Galbraith tells, along with much else, how we have reached a point where the private sector has unprecedented control over the public sector. We have given ourselves over to self-serving belief and ‘contrived nonsense’ or more simply, fraud. This has come at the exense of the economy, effective government, and the business world.”

      Reply
  5. Lulymay

    August 16th, 2019

    I’m not familiar with how Alabamberta applies its minimum wage act to, say, those who work in restaurants and or bars/pubs, but in BC, they are not subject to the minimum wage (something I only recently became aware of). Apparently, because these workers earn extra money due to receiving tips. the BC Government allows employers pay their workers less than minimum wage on the expectation that they will make up for the difference on the basis of anticipated tips. Most of these businesses now have their bills printed with a notation that it is expected you will add 18% tip to the total price of your bill.

    I spent Jan-Feb&Mar of 1999 travelling in Australia and at that time the wage for these jobs was $12/hour and no tipping was expected. So 20 years later, these businesses cannot afford to pay $15/hour? When these fine upstanding businesses can charge $9 for a 4 oz. glass of $12 bottle of wine, my heart just palpitates for the poor dears.

    Needless to say, I rarely cross their threshold these days and save even more money because I don’t have to pay for a taxi to get me home.

    Reply
  6. Alex C Polkovsky

    August 16th, 2019

    Attention plebs! The punishment will continue until morale improves!

    It’s never a good time to deviate from comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted. The poor still have their skins. This is intolerable.

    While Kenny and Ford stay mostly quiet to give Andrew Sheer his best chance (maybe) of winning in October, the Canadian public gets to stew in our discomfort.

    Reply
  7. Farmer Bob

    August 16th, 2019

    Why should Albertans expect any different . Kenney has little man syndrome. He couldn’t make it in Federal politics so he wangled his way into Alberta with apparently some pretty shady deals. He is attacking Trudeau and if he doesn’t get his way is threatening to seperate . He will rest assured drop minimum wage, the panel he appointed is all for it before the investigation begins. Don’t waste our money with the farce of an investigation. You will do what you want and to hell with the people.

    Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      August 17th, 2019

      “He couldn’t make it in Federal politics…”

      I think Jason Kenney saw the freshly elected Justin Trudeau as unbeatable for the next 2 or 3 terms so he decided to look elsewhere. Now that Mr. Trudeau has floundered he must be really regretting that decision.

      If, God forbid, the CPC should win in October, that dark cloud will have 2 silver linings:

      1. At least its only Andrew Scheer; it could have been Jason Kenney, and
      2. We get to enjoy imagine Jason Kenney’s anguish as he realizes ‘It could have been me’

      Reply
  8. Dave

    August 16th, 2019

    I’ll start with Mr. Lisac’s quote about a popular leader, as I think this is where it will all start to fall apart for Kenney and the UCP. Kenney has often been described as a clever and effective politician, popular a la Klein – not so much. I suspect when the UCP’s fervor for austerity doesn’t improve the Alberta economy, but makes things worse, any semblance to popularity Kenney has will start to unravel and the honeymoon will quickly be over. Mr. Kenney probably knows this, which is why is so busy trying to implement his agenda as fast as possible. However, don’t worry for Kenney, just as his poll numbers start to dip here there will probably be a Federal Conservative leadership race and it will be back to the safety and familiarity of Ottawa for him and some other hapless UCP leader will be left to try clean up the mess and carry on here.

    I had to chuckle when I hear the panel was described as representative by the UCP. I suppose it could be described as the hand picked representatives of the UCP, but I don’t know that there is anyone who actually earns minimum wage on it. Apparently, when asked about that the UCP didn’t know either.

    Reply
  9. Tom

    August 16th, 2019

    I’m guessing the same people who complain about raising the minimum wage are the same people who complain about being expected to tip.

    Reply
    • tom in ontario

      August 17th, 2019

      And when they do, it’s often the bare minimum, 10 per cent or less. Sometimes instead of a tip they leave an inspirational quote from the Bible.

      Reply
  10. Dwayne

    August 16th, 2019

    Does the UCP care about who their short sighted polices affect? The short answer to that is no. We have seen how bad the Alberta PCs were, after Peter Lougheed left office, and look at what we have again, with the UCP. Is it a competition between Jason Kenney in Alberta, and Doug Ford as to who can do the most damage, in the shortest period of time?

    Reply
  11. Jim

    August 17th, 2019

    No one seems to have any answer to how do you fix the fundamental problem of creating a business environment where good jobs can be created? Artificially raising pay to $15 an hour isn’t going to cut it because it is unsustainable, attaching a higher value to the work performed doesn’t make sense. Funny how Kenney seems to think that artificially attaching a high price to our oil will work.

    Reply
    • Jerrymacgp

      August 18th, 2019

      How about setting the conditions for an economy where everyone, including the lowest paid, can afford to engage in it? Low-wage workers have to live, too, and if the minimum wage supports a full-time worker living above the poverty line, that worker can afford to eat better, perhaps eat out from time to time, and buy more and better stuff, thereby supporting local businesses where he or she works and lives.

      Reply
  12. Expat Albertain

    August 17th, 2019

    I once had a conversation about that raise in the minimum wage with my very pro-business, conservative-supporting buddy in Edmonton. He argued all the regular canards about raising minimum wage, how it would force businesses to go out of business, etc. Then I asked how they managed to survive during the boom years when the labour supply and demand required higher wages. His response was that people expect servers to be paid more during boom times and were OK with it. I suppose there is some logic to that – everyone is making more money in the boom years. Restaurants have a steadier flow of customers…yet they also have more competition from other restaurants who set up to take advantage of the oil boom (hence the labour shortage). So it made little sense that wage hikes from minimum wage were somehow different, on the employer, from wage hikes due to a shortage of labour. It’s like saying that arsenic given by a friend won’t harm you, but arsenic given by an enemy will.

    Reply
  13. Bob Raynard

    August 17th, 2019

    Given the CBC’s, and David’s research, it does seem quite clear these experts were selected because they could be relied on to recommend what the UCP want recommended. As such, this expert panel, and the Blue Ribbon Panel, really are little more than puppets.

    My question is how much is our government, which describes itself as expert money managers, paying for these puppets to perform these puppet shows?

    Reply
  14. alainmc

    August 18th, 2019

    this is what Albertans wanted in electing kenny…..what did you think was going to happen…..just wait, this is only the beginning…kenny will defund average joe to give to big oil…..just watch

    Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (not be published)