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Good times, bad times, Liberals will keep minimum wage down

When times were good, the Liberal government argued there was no point raising the minimum wage. Now that the economy's tanking, Premier Gordon Campbell promised to keep B.C.'s lowest paid workers at $8 an hour.

Back in 2007, as the NDP and the B.C. Federation of Labour campaigned to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour, the Tyee reported then labour minister Olga Illich said very few employees actually receive the minimum.

“It needs to be balanced with what we feel will help in the economy," she said at the time. "We don't want to see people exploited, but when we see what we have in the job market and the economy, we think we're doing quite well."

At the time Carole James asked, “If you don't do it now when the economy is strong . . . then when do you increase it? It's common sense that when our economy's strong you look at an increase in the minimum wage."

Fast forward to today's throne speech, which pledged to keep the minimum wage at $8 an hour. “Now is not the time to impose hundreds of millions in new costs on small businesses through an increased minimum wage that will mean more job losses, will depress job creation and will hurt those it purports to help.”

So, if it can't be done when times are good, and it can't be done when times are bad, when is a good time?

“We can't in this particular time add costs, government can't impose costs, on businesses,” said Campbell in a scrum with reporters in his office. “What we know across the board is that would cost over $400 million to small businesses in the province. We're saying clearly that's not a strategy we will pursue as a government.”

The government wants to make sure wages go up, he said. “Wages [on average] for young people are substantially higher than the minimum wage.” The province's record on job creation and youth employment shows it's the right strategy, he said.

“During the good times its not a good time to raise the minimum wage because we don't need it,” said NDP leader Carole James responding to the throne speech today. “During the tough times we shouldn't increase it? It's pretty clear this Premier doesn't believe that minimum wage workers deserve anything. Well, I do.”

"It's an ideological play," said BCFED president Jim Sinclair. "This is about keeping the bottom down."

Only PEI and New Brunswick now have lower minimum wages than B.C., he said. "Even Alberta's ahead of us now . . . That's what happens when you freeze it for eight years."

As it happens, raising the minimum wage is the exact opposite of lowering taxes. Campbell has presented reducing taxes as a strategy in both good times and bad.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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