Business groups weigh rate hike that would raise B.C.'s minimum wage from the bottom of the country

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      B.C. business groups heaped praise on Jobs Minister Shirley Bond when she announced in March 2015 that B.C. was tying the minimum wage to the consumer price index (CPI).

      Annual increases on the basis of a predictable economic indicator are preferred to larger, unpredictable changes implemented without warning, they said.

      But less than a year since that announcement, the B.C. NDP and labour groups are suggesting the province do exactly what the peg to the CPI was intended to prevent. Last week, the Straight reported on calls for an increase to the minimum wage beyond a 20-cent rise based on the CPI.

      Now the Business Council of British Columbia (BCBC) has said it is “not outright opposed” to the idea.

      “If the other provinces have moved in a way that wasn’t anticipated two or three years ago, then it would be understandable if B.C. wanted to take another look at it,” BCBC executive vice president Jock Finlayson told the Straight.

      He explained that B.C.’s minimum wage of $10.45 an hour ranks near the bottom of the country’s 13 provinces and territories. (Last October, the Straight reported this situation is the result of a mistake that the government has since refused to acknowledge or redress.)

      “B.C. has ended up at the low end of the spectrum on the statutory minimum, whereas the government had previously indicated they wanted to be in the middle,” Finlayson said. “So that’s an issue for them to sort out. But we have not historically been particularly anxious about small adjustments.”

      To return B.C.’s minimum wage to the middle of the pack would take an additional increase of only 20 or 30 cents above a 20-cent increase scheduled for implementation this September, federal data shows.

      Finlayson, a trained economist, cautioned against a large adjustment. But he described a 20- or 30-cent increase as “small” and an amount businesses could absorb without significantly disrupting the labour market.

      Others were less open to the idea.

      In separate interviews, B.C. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Jon Garson and Richard Truscott, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses’ vice president for British Columbia, both said their organizations would express concerns for any further changes to the minimum wage.

      Garson took issue with comparing one jurisdiction to another.

      “I think this is the wrong way to think about the issue,” he said. “Where the minimum wage should be and why increases should be considered is not a case of how we compare to other provinces. Every province has to tailor their own policy to their own needs and their own considerations.”

      Truscott argued a 30-cent increase is not as minor an adjustment as it might sound.

      “If you take what appears to be a small amount and you times it by the number of hours in a business and the number of employees, we are talking about thousands of dollars in added costs,” he said. “That money has to come from somewhere. It doesn’t just appear out of thin air.”