A close look at the B.C. NDP, Liberal, and Green plans for a higher minimum wage

The B.C. NDP wants to see the province's minimum wage rise to $15 an hour by 2021; meanwhile, a Liberal government would not take lower-income earners to that rate until 2034, 13 years later

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      The 2017 provincial election is still nine months off, but the B.C. Federation of Labour already knows who it’s backing. That would be the New Democrats, the organization’s president, Irene Lanzinger, told the Straight.

      In a telephone interview ahead of Labour Day, Lanzinger explained that, for her, the vote largely comes down to one issue: the minimum wage. “The NDP is the major provincial party that has committed to a $15 minimum wage and recognizes that that’s what people need [in order] to be above the poverty line,” Lanzinger said.

      Today, B.C.’s minimum wage stands at $10.45 an hour and is scheduled to increase to $10.85 this September.

      If the Liberals remain in power following the May 2017 election, the minimum wage will jump again, in September 2017, to $11.25 an hour. From there, it would remain pegged to the consumer price index, a statistical estimate of inflation. That would see it rise by about 24 cents a year, to $11.49 in 2018, $11.73 in 2019, $11.97 in 2020, and about $12.23 in 2021.

      When NDP Leader John Horgan promised a $15 minimum wage last June, he said that would come via a gradual implementation to reach $15 by the end of the NDP’s first term in power. That would mean a climb of about 83 cents a year, to $11.68 in 2017, $12.51 in 2018, $13.34 in 2019, $14.17 in 2020, and $15 in 2021.

      The Liberals’ plan would get to $15 an hour in 2034, 13 years later.

      The B.C. Greens don’t yet have an official position on the minimum wage. In a telephone interview, Green leader and Oak Bay–Gordon Head MLA Andrew Weaver dismissed the Liberals’ minimum wage as “unacceptable”, and he also criticized the NDP for its position.

      “How do you know that $15 is the right minimum wage?” he asked. “It’s just a number that’s round.”

      Alternatively, Weaver said the Greens will pursue a package of coordinated policies alongside a higher minimum wage. That might include negative taxation, a housing allowance, and an increase to the welfare rate.

      “The issue of the minimum wage is much more complex than a $15 talking point,” Weaver said.

      Jock Finlayson is executive vice president of the Business Council of British Columbia. He told the Straight that most employers are supportive of regular increases like the Liberal government’s peg to the consumer price index. On $15 by 2021, Finlayson said: “I think that would start to push the envelope a bit.”

      He didn’t dismiss further increases outright, but he argued in favour of more nuanced policies: for example, looking at the relationship between the minimum wage and the average industrial wage, which was about $25 in 2015.

      “I think there is room for healthy debate on what the statutory minimum should be,” Finlayson said. “Should it be 50 percent of the average [industrial wage] or should it be pushed up higher, as some people on the left will argue? I think that’s a reasonable debate to have.”

      The B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training did not make a representative available for an interview.

      Shane Simpson is B.C.'s opposition critic for economic development, jobs, labour, and skills and NDP MLA for Vancouver-Hastings. In a telephone interview, he said the party is still working out exactly how an NDP government would take B.C.'s minimum wage up to $15 an hour.

      "It's a question of determining the increments and the timeline to put those increases in place and to announce a schedule for that," he said. "But it will happen in the first term. Whether it takes two and a half years or three years to get there, or whatever that timeline is."

      Simpson noted those discussions would involve seeking input from business owners.

      The Straight has reported extensively on the provincial government's decision to up the minimum wage this September and again in September 2017. Those bumps amount to roughly four times the increases that were previously planned for implementation.

      Through more than 10 freedom-of-information requests filed over several months, it was uncovered that the government made a serious error in calculating how it would set a new minimum wage and adjust it going forward. It was only after the Straight's reporting on the issue that the provincial government eventually corrected its mistake.

      According to May 2016 government release, changes to the minimum wage affect some 93,700 British Columbians, 43 percent of whom are over the age of 24.