Alberta's minimum wage hike still a go: Notley

Alberta’s NDP government will press ahead with plans to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour despite the fiscal crisis facing the province.

Rachel Notley said last week the election pledge will not be deferred, unlike other promises that have been put on the shelf due to the collapse of oil prices.

She said her government has reached out to the business community and listened to its calls to cut the small business tax and bring in a capital investment tax credit, but the minimum wage hike is going ahead as planned.

“I am pleased that we’re able to work with the business community to help them move forward,” she told reporters last week. “But when it comes to the minimum wage, we also believe particularly that at times like this it is not appropriate for a single parent to work 50 or 60 hours a week and have to stop at the food bank two or three times every week to feed their family,”

Labour Minister Christina Gray said Wednesday the government is fully committed to consulting Albertans as it moves forward with its plan to phase in a $15 minimum wage by 2018.

“We haven’t stopped talking to folks, and I’ll continue to be on the road meeting with employers, workers and groups like the chambers of commerce across the province,” she said in a statement.

Gray said formal consultations will start soon on the phase-in of a minimum wage that will mean “every Albertan who works full-time earns enough to support themselves.”

The NDP raised the minimum wage $1 to $11.20 an hour last year after taking office.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business and members of an association representing 15 trade organizations from the construction, energy, retail and restaurant industries have urged Notley to defer the hike.

Opposition parties were also unanimous in their view this week that moving ahead with the proposed minimum wage hike would be a mistake.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean called Notley’s insistence at pushing ahead with the hike “very troubling.”

“I would ask that they halt this … and do full costing on it and make sure there is a full analysis done.”

Jean said the empirical evidence suggests it is the wrong approach to take.

He said prices increased dramatically in other jurisdictions when minimum wages were hiked significantly.

Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver said businesses are hurting.

“Many, many small businesses are telling us and the government that their ability to continue is being threatened by labour costs during times of low sales and low margins,” he said.

He said artificially raising the minimum wage will hurt more than it helps.

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark said it’s time to re-think the increase.

“A $15 minimum wage is a U.S. campaign that is totally out of touch with the realities facing small business in Alberta,” Clark said. “I think it actually will hurt the people it is intended to help because it’s going to create less employment.”

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann said although he supports the hike, he would like to see more analysis of the impacts on small businesses before wages are raised.

“I don’t think we should be tied to a rigid agenda,” he said. “This is a unique time. I think we should look at the evidence and try to decide what’s in the best interests of not only low income earners, but also small business.”

He said ultimately Alberta has to get to that minimum wage.

“I am just wondering about the timing.”

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