News / Vancouver

'Help is on the way': B.C. to boost minimum wage past $15 over 3 years, but concerns linger

B.C. Liberals' Andrew Wilkinson fears NDP decision a 'political,' not economic, one—as Premier says low-wage earners to see first bump in June

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves a coffee shop after announcing changes to the province's minimum wage, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday

DARRYL DYCK / The Canadian Press

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves a coffee shop after announcing changes to the province's minimum wage, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday

John Horgan has a message for low-wage earners: "Help is on the way."

On Thursday, the Premier announced the results of the fair wages commission, which he set up after the NDP came to power on a promise to bring the floor up to $15 per hour — but without a deadline.

In June, minimum wage will reach $12.65, and eventually, in three years, will actually exceed the promise by reaching $15.20.

"We believe 2021 is not overly agressive," Horgan told reporters. "In fact, it's going to be too slow for some. I believe this is a good balance."

But newly elected B.C. Liberal leader, Andrew Wilkinson, told Metro on Thursday that while he supports gradual increases tied to economic indicators, he is opposed to what he said are "politicized" targets like the NDP's $15-an-hour vow.

"Clearly, minimum wage will shift over time," he said in a sit-down interview in Metro's newsroom. "When I started working, it was $1.55. So over time it has to adjust to circumstances.

"Picking a raw number is a political decision, and I'm not in support of politicizing those decisions."

He said he'll wait to "see what happens" once the NDP starts implementing its commission's recommendations, "but if they choose raw numbers like $15 or $20, that is a political decision that is not based on an economic analysis."

Business groups, too, had expressed concerns about too fast an increase, as Ontario recently jumped to $14 with just one year to transition to $15, outraging many industries — most infamously seeing some Tim Horton's franchisees to cut staff benefits and paid breaks, sparking protests and boycotts.

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks to Metro Vancouver's newsroom during an editorial meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks to Metro Vancouver's newsroom during an editorial meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018.

"One has to be careful in blindly following other jurisdictions," Wilkinson noted. "… Ontario's had many different issues on which they made politicized decisions that turned out to be blunders — whether it's gas plants or colleges of homeopathy … We do things on their merits."

On Thursday, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce said the phase-in helps reduce the burden, even if raising it every June "will cause challenges to some," its CEO Val Litwin said in a release. "Predictability and certainty are what’s on our members’ minds.

"While front-loading the minimum wage increase will cause challenges for some businesses, the four-year timeline – with projected increases – will help businesses plan and incorporate those costs into their budgets."

B.C.'s approach, Horgan said, offers "predictability." And it balances the needs of those toiling at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Proponents of the even-higher cost-based living wage — which has hovered above $20 an hour for several years in housing-strapped Metro Vancouver — lauded the $15.20 goal despite its slow phase-in.

"Could have gone to $15 faster," said Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives senior economist Iglika Ivanova in a tweet, "but today's announcement is still a big step forward for B.C.'s lowest-paid workers."

But others were less impressed, with economist Michal Rozworski noting that Horgan's 34 per cent increase pales compared to his predecessor Christy Clark's 28 per cent boost in 2011, jacked up over just a year.

"The three-year phase-in is half the speed of Ontario's, comes three years later than Alberta's and sees B.C. get to $15 even after Seattle's tortured process," the graduate researcher noted on Twitter. "Meanwhile B.C. remains in an affordability crisis, one felt acutely by low-wage workers … So why 2021?"

Wilkinson countered that minimum wage will continue to serve as a necessary "starting-point in life" for young, part-time workers.

"People earning minimum wage, and I've done it for many years myself, are always going to be exposed to the pressures of the cost of living, and aspiring to get beyond minimum wage," he told Metro. "The concern, of course, is people get caught in earning minimum wage for the long-term or as a full-time source of income to support a family. That's something the government has to keep a close eye on."

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