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BC Politics

BC Minimum Wage to Top $15 by 2021

Rate to jump $1.30 June 1 to $12.65.

Andrew MacLeod 8 Feb

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The minimum wage in British Columbia will pass $15 an hour, but not until 2021, the provincial government announced today.

While BC Federation of Labour President Irene Lanzinger said she’s glad about the planned increases but disappointed the timeline is too slow, Premier John Horgan characterized the government’s plan as a “methodical, thoughtful and balanced approach to raising minimum wages here in British Columbia.”

It is also the timeline the NDP campaigned on ahead of the 2017 election. After the election, with the support of the Green Party, the NDP government appointed a Fair Wages Commission to advise it on raising the minimum wage and dropped the deadline.

The Fair Wages Commission’s report to Labour Minister Harry Bains is dated Jan. 17. “Our commitment was to get to $15 by 2021 and the Fair Wages Commission has put us onto that track,” Horgan said. “We’re taking the recommendations of the Fair Wages Commission.”

On June 1, there will be a $1.30 an hour increase, bringing the minimum wage to $12.65 an hour. That will be followed by a $1.20 increase a year later, then smaller raises in the following two years to reach $15.20 an hour on June 1, 2021.

“I believe we’ve made significant progress and I’m certain that those that are making the minimum wage today will feel better [in June] of this year, and again the year after that and the year after that,” Horgan said.

“If we’re going to be competitive, we’re going to be able to recruit and retain workers in sectors like hospitality and others that pay, on balance, lower wages, we need to make sure we are competitive with other jurisdictions,” he said, noting that both Alberta and Washington State have plans to reach $15 an hour.

“Predictability and certainty allows businesses to plan and ensure they are prepared for these changes,” he said.

Lanzinger said both Ontario and Alberta will have increased their minimum wages to $15 an hour by January 2019, more than two years sooner than B.C. will reach that level.

“We’re pleased that we finally have a path to 15 and workers know when they are going to get there,” she said. “We are disappointed in the timeline. We had hope the government would be bolder in that timeline, more in line with Alberta and Ontario.”

There are about 500,000 workers in B.C. who are being paid too little to cross the poverty line, even if they work full-time, Lanzinger said. “To ask them to wait three years to be lifted above the poverty line, actually more than three years, is really just not fair in our view.”

The NDP government’s plan is an improvement, however, on the previous government’s plan to raise the minimum wage at the pace of inflation, which would have delayed reaching $15 an hour until around 2032, Lanzinger said.

“We are better off with this NDP government in this regard than we would have been with the Liberals,” she said. “The Liberals, there was no clear path to 15.”

Lanzinger said that fear-mongering about how raising the minimum wage will affect businesses doesn’t play out in reality. “The fact is it’s good for the economy to raise the wages of low wage workers.”

Iglika Ivanova, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. office, said the increases could have been made faster but that it’s good that the largest increases will happen in the first two years.

“It’s a big step to see the increases front loaded,” she said, noting that by June 2019 the minimum wage will be $2.50 higher than it is today and close to $14 an hour. “Overall I would say it’s a win for B.C.’s lowest paid workers.”

It is, however, short of the living wage of $20.62 in Vancouver, Ivanova said. That’s the amount two people working full time would need to earn to cover food, clothing, housing, health care, transportation, education, childcare and other essentials for a family of four.

The next phase of the Fair Wages Commission’s work will be to provide advice on how to make the minimum wage more like a living wage, which Ivanova said may include recommendations for making life more affordable in the province by addressing things like the cost of housing, childcare and prescription drugs.

“All these things combined with minimum wage increases are going to help the working poor,” she said.

According to the provincial government, some 400,000 workers in B.C. earn less than $15 an hour. About 4.8 per cent of employees make the current minimum wage of $11.35 an hour.

Horgan said raising the minimum wage is one component of the government’s plan to make life more affordable. Next week’s throne speech will talk about other measures, including child care and housing affordability, he said.  [Tyee]

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