The right bal­ance

The Southern Gazette - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 35 Saltwire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetele­gram.com Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

Ev­ery prov­ince in Canada is grap­pling to find the right bal­ance in the min­i­mum wage de­bate but the is­sue presents a spe­cial chal­lenge for At­lantic Canada. The re­gion has long suf­fered from high un­em­ploy­ment and low wages – a com­bi­na­tion that crip­ples ef­forts to re­tain young peo­ple.

There is a grow­ing trend among prov­inces like On­tario, Al­berta and Bri­tish Columbia to raise the min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour within the next two to three years. It’s a num­ber that many sug­gest of­fers a rea­son­able liv­ing wage.

It also cre­ates a ma­jor con­cern in this re­gion among gov­ern­ments and busi­nesses. The is­sue is now be­fore the Nova Sco­tia leg­is­la­ture where the NDP has pre­sented a pri­vate mem­bers’ bill to reach that $15 num­ber. It has sent Pre­mier Stephen McNeil scur­ry­ing for cover be­cause his prov­ince now has the low­est min­i­mum wage in the re­gion - $10.35 for in­ex­pe­ri­enced and $10.85 for ex­pe­ri­enced work­ers. New Brunswick and New­found­land and Labrador have reached $11 and P.E.I. is at $11.25.

The Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Busi­ness warns that a $15 min­i­mum wage is a job killer – es­pe­cially for At­lantic youth – be­cause it could see 29,000 job losses among young peo­ple across the At­lantic re­gion. To their credit, most CFIB mem­bers pay above min­i­mum wage lev­els, but cer­tain sec­tors that em­ploy large num­bers of young peo­ple and stu­dents – such as re­tail and hos­pi­tal­ity – say they can’t af­ford large in­creases in the min­i­mum wage. Na­tion­ally, if all prov­inces adopt a $15 an hour min­i­mum wage, it’s es­ti­mated that be­tween 185,000 to 422,000 youth jobs would be at risk.

What re­ally angers busi­nesses are sur­prise in­creases. Prov­inces, which have an­nounced plans to move to­wards $15 an hour, at least have sig­naled their in­ten­tions and es­tab­lished time­lines to reach grad­u­ated in­creases. Oth­ers are not so oblig­ing.

This spring, for ex­am­ple, the P.E.I. gov­ern­ment an­nounced plans to in­crease its min­i­mum wage to $11.25 April 1. Is­land busi­nesses had lit­tle more than a month to pre­pare, and un­der­stand­ably, there was wide­spread crit­i­cism.

The Greater Char­lot­te­town Area Cham­ber of Com­merce – which rep­re­sents more than 1,000 busi­nesses - was quite vo­cal be­cause there were al­ready two wage in­creases in 2016. If prov­inces are go­ing to leg­is­late in­creases in the min­i­mum wage, they must con­sult busi­nesses well in ad­vance about their plans.

A les­son was learned here. The prov­ince did agree that any fu­ture in­creases to P.E.I.’s min­i­mum wage would be an­nounced well in ad­vance and will al­ways oc­cur on April 1.

The N.S. gov­ern­ment says it wouldn’t be rais­ing the min­i­mum wage this year and ar­gues that a $15 rate would have a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on its busi­ness sec­tor. It may not have a choice. If it wants to keep ed­u­cated young peo­ple at home, it will have to pay a com­pet­i­tive wage.

Find­ing a bal­ance in At­lantic Canada will be­come an in­creas­ing chal­lenge. If cen­tral and western prov­inces of­fer $15 an hour, will young peo­ple stay here for $11 or $11.25? It’s doubt­ful.

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