Despite strong public support for a significant pay raise for British Columbia's worst paid workers, as of Friday the province will have the lowest minimum wage in the country.
"We live in the most expensive province in the country and we should be leaders on the minimum wage," said Irene Lanzinger, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour. "We got to be last because the government did not take appropriate action on it."
In September 2015, the B.C. government raised the minimum wage by 20 cents an hour to $10.45, with a lower wage of $9.20 an hour for servers who may receive tips. Future annual increases were to be tied to inflation.
The BCFED, which is campaigning to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, is drawing attention to the province's last place status with a rush hour April Fool's day event at the Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station and the release of a new public opinion poll about minimum wage.
"There is very strong support for this in the public," Lanzinger said.
Poverty line pay
The poll, which Insights West conducted for the BCFED, found 83 per cent of respondents thought the minimum wage should be set high enough that it would allow people to live above the poverty line.
About three out of four people said they supported raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and that it would be a fair rate considering the cost of living in the province. The online survey included 811 British Columbian adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Lanzinger said a $15 an hour minimum wage would put someone who works 35 hours a week just above the poverty line in Vancouver. That would still be short of the $21 an hour calculated as a living wage for the city, she said. "We think $15 is a good step along the way."
Alberta and Seattle are already moving to $15 an hour and politicians in California are considering doing the same, she said.
Undetermined increase coming
The minister responsible for labour, Shirley Bond, was unavailable for an interview.
On April 25, she released a statement saying the province would raise the minimum wage in September and the increase will be consistent with B.C.'s overall economic growth.
Bond did not specify how big the raise will be, but said that it would be greater than the increase in the Consumer Price Index. "Given our stronger economic growth, we feel there should be room for a modest incremental adjustment beyond B.C.'s CPI so that all workers can benefit from our success."
From February 2015 to February 2016, according to Statistics Canada, the CPI went up 1.6 per cent for B.C., which would have resulted in a 17 cent an hour raise.
Lanzinger said it's time for real action from the government.
Some 27 per cent of workers in B.C. -- more than 500,000 people -- earn less than $15 an hour, and it's not good for the province to have a quarter of the working population living near or below the poverty line, she said, adding that has an impact on education, health, social assistance and other areas.
"If we think long-term, poverty is not good for the economy," she said. "It's not good for anyone."
The BC Liberals seem to be keeping the minimum wage low in response to the business lobby, she said. "They are very much persuaded by their friends in the business community who want to maximize their profits and minimize their expenses."