Alberta NDP’s promise of $15 minimum wage wins praise from labour
Alberta premier-elect Rachel Notley waves as she speaks the media during a press conference in Edmonton on Wednesday, May 6, 2015., (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS
The Alberta NDP’s promise of a $15 minimum wage – which would be the highest in the country – is being praised by labour and is creating nervousness among business as the party platform moves toward reality after this week’s landslide victory.
A big increase in the minimum wage, higher income taxes for the wealthiest 10 per cent and a stronger focus on fighting climate change are among the concrete examples of the change promised by Rachel Notley’s successful NDP campaign for power in Alberta.
“We’ll see a difference on tax policy, we’ll see a difference on policies related to things like the minimum wage and we’ll see a difference on issues related to royalties and the energy sector,” said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. “This is not something to be afraid of. This is something to be celebrated and embraced and in fact, that’s exactly what Albertans voted for. They didn’t just vote for a new face. They voted for a new approach.”
The AFL is eager to see movement on these promises, especially the pledge to raise the minimum wage in stages from $10.20 to $15 by 2018.
Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has also promised to raise the federal minimum wage to that amount, but the promise was seen as largely symbolic given that the federal minimum wage covers roughly one million employees and only a small fraction of them work in minimum-wage jobs. The federal minimum wage currently matches the minimum wage set by each province.
The Alberta promise would represent a significant change, given that provincially regulated jobs do cover the most common sources of low-wage employment.
A 2014 study by the Alberta government found that only 1.5 per cent of employees in the province made the minimum wage, well below the national average of 6.8 per cent. Most of Alberta’s minimum wage workers are under the age of 30 and more than half are employed in accommodation and food services and retail.
The provincial government in Ontario faced significant opposition from employer groups when it raised the minimum wage to $11 in June 2014, giving Ontario the highest minimum wage in the country.
Dan Kelly, President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the minimum wage promise will be one of the main causes of “nervousness” among business owners in Alberta.
“Obviously that would create huge pressures on business,” he said.
Another key policy change promised by the Alberta NDP is a new, more progressive tax system.