A $15 MINIMUM WAGE IS ALL THE RAGE—KINDA. A new CLI Briefing Note gives a clear snapshot of the different paths three provinces are taking to get there and suggests a $15 minimum wage for all may soon be “an idea whose time has come.”
Alberta will bring in a $15 minimum wage first in October, Ontario in January 2019—unless the new government come June 7 changes things—and B.C. in 2021.
Meanwhile, Stephen McNeil in Nova Scotia is trying to hold back the $15 tide with his effort to recruit the three other Atlantic premiers to create a pact to move towards a $15 minimum wage very, very slowly—if at all.
Alberta leads the way
All the chamber of commerce blowhards got it wrong. They said raising the Alberta minimum wage 47%—from the lowest in the country to the highest—would ruin the Alberta economy. It didn’t. In fact things got better.
Alberta’s service sector added over 12,500 jobs in 2017. Spending in the service sector has also gone up—proving, once again that more money in the pockets of low-wage workers means more spending in local economies, and a boon to the very businesses higher wages were prophesized to hurt.
The jump to a $15 minimum wage seems a lot higher than it actually is. When inflation is figured in a $15 minimum wage in 2019 would only be about a dollar more than the 1977 minimum wage.
David Green, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia says job losses associated with minimum wage hikes are usually overblown. He points out there is even a positive “tradeoff” for workers who may wind up unemployed: once they find work they get more stable jobs that pay better wages.
“So that’s the trade off. And because people tend to be employed longer than they’re unemployed, my sort of gut reaction is that that’s a trade-off worth making.”
British Columbia: faster would be better
Early in February, B.C.’s government announced its $15 minimum wage proposed timeline: small increases every year on June 1st, eventually reaching a wage of $15.20 by 2021.
At the time of the announcement, B.C. Premier John Horgan told the press, “We believe that 2021 is not overly aggressive, in fact it will be disappointing to some.”
He wasn’t wrong.
“Making 500,000 low paid workers who currently make less than $15 wait until June 2021 to climb above poverty wage rates is not fair,” B.C. Labour Federation president Irene Lanzinger wrote in a statement.
This April, the Living Wage for Families Campaign calculated that a realistic “living wage” for Metro Vancouver had risen to $20.91—almost five dollars more than a $15 minimum wage that is three years away.
Ontario: maybe yes, maybe no
Potential catastrophe was again the predictable forecast from the barons of Bay Street when Ontario increased its minimum wage to $14 per hour on January 1st. They were wrong again.
“The debate is often framed as ‘workers win, firms lose,’ when really what’s happening is the people who are really paying for it are consumers,” says David Green. “But it’s spread pretty widely, across consumers, so most people aren’t going to feel it very much.”
Ontario also made many other good changes to it’s Labour Standards Act along with the move to a $15 minimum wage—but it did not change the minimum wage exemption for liquor servers.
Now that B.C. is phasing out the exemption, Ontario and Quebec will soon be the only provinces paying liquor servers under the regular wage.
The great uncertainty in Ontario now is what will happen following the election June 7. Should the Liberals lose there is no guarantee of when the minimum wage in Ontario will reach $15 an hour.
PC leader Doug Ford says he will halt the minimum wage at $14, instead offering minimum wage earners an income tax break. Current calculations of Ford’s plan indicate that this would give minimum wage earners an extra $800 per year—a full $1,200 less than the $2,000 a $15 minimum wage gives them.
Facing up to reality
Alberta’s successful introduction of a $15 minimum wage should help undercut the rabid business resistance to a $15 minimum. But it is no sure thing.
Every move to a $15 minimum wage is a necessary and welcome step in the fight against income inequality. However, the huge gap between a living wage and a minimum wage will remain. Until we do something about that too.
We are nearing a tipping point. The undeniable impossibility of living a decent life on a wage of $9 or $10 an hour may make the $15 an hour minimum wage truly an idea whose time has come—just because we say it is.
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