Minimum wage gaps
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil isn’t finding much support for his idea of having a common minimum wage in Atlantic Canada by as early as next spring. Whatever his target might be, he’s quick to reject any plans to join the $15-an-hour club. That figure is now the goal for Ontario and Alberta. It’s inevitable that by 2020 or 2021, it will be the law in several provinces, but don’t expect it to happen soon in all of Atlantic Canada.
The issue is back in the news because Atlantic provinces adjusted their minimum wages April 1. Nova Scotia’s minimum wage for experienced workers increased from $10.85 to $11 an hour — the second lowest in the nation behind Saskatchewan’s $10.96. Newfoundland and Labrador’s jumped 15 cents to $11.15; New Brunswick increased its minimum wage by 25 cents to $11.25; and P.E.I. upped it by 30 cents to $11.55.
McNeil has strong views on the subject. He feels significant increases will have a detrimental impact on his province’s economy and is prepared to defend and maintain that position.
But that’s no reason for the other three Atlantic premiers to take a similar stand. Atlantic co-operation makes sense on many issues — education, prescription drug purchases, marijuana regulations and interprovincial trade — where the reduction of barriers and red tape is beneficial for economies and citizens. Minimum wages and gasoline price regulations are among the exceptions to the rule. Premiers need some flexibility to react on measures deemed essential or unique for their province.
P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan didn’t get too excited with his fellow premier’s trial balloon. The Island has made it policy in recent years to offer the highest minimum wage in the region. The cost of living on the Island is among the highest in Canada and a higher wage is essential to pay for the basics. It offers a reason for young people to remain in the province and for others to move to the Island.
P.E.I. doesn’t regard a higher minimum wage as detrimental to business. The province has basically balanced its budget for the past three years, enjoyed an increase in population and a decrease in unemployment. Its economy is booming. Nova Scotia has also balanced its budget but economic good times are slow to take effect.
McNeil would like other Atlantic premiers to slow the pace of wage increases and allow Nova Scotia time to narrow the gap. Newfoundland and Labrador just brought down a tough budget aimed at reducing expenditures without major job reductions or cuts to services; New Brunswick is headed toward a September election; and rumblings are growing louder on the P.E.I. political landscape about a snap spring vote. So, don’t expect much regional support at curbing minimum wage increases to aid McNeil.
On this issue, the Nova Scotia premier is a voice in the wilderness.