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B.C. NDP pledges to raise minimum wage to $15 if elected

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan says the minimum-wage increases would be in place by 2021.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The Leader of B.C.'s Official Opposition says he would, if elected, raise the province's minimum wage to $15 an hour by the end of his first term – a notable increase after B.C. has consistently trailed other provinces and territories.

B.C.'s current minimum wage of $10.45 an hour is the lowest in Canada for experienced adult workers, according to the Government of Canada's minimum wage database. B.C.'s rate is scheduled to increase to $10.85 an hour in mid-September. As of early October, B.C. will have the eighth-highest minimum wage among the provinces and territories, according to the database.

Alberta's NDP government has vowed to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018, and jurisdictions such as Seattle, California and New York have announced legislation to similar effect, though their timelines vary.

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John Horgan, Leader of the B.C. NDP, said if he's elected next year, the $15-an-hour minimum wage would be in place by 2021.

"Affordability issues are going to be fundamental to the campaign," he said in an interview. "Not just housing affordability, which is the dominant issue, but just generally getting by. The middle class and regular people are being crushed."

Mr. Horgan said the minimum-wage increases would be incremental, though the exact timeline has not been determined.

When asked why it would potentially take four years to reach the $15-an-hour figure, Mr. Horgan said the business community has stressed the need for predictable increases.

"[A wage of] $15 by 2021 strikes me as achievable without disrupting those sectors of the economy that are wage-dependent and are concerned about abrupt increases over short periods of time," he said.

Irene Lanzinger, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said it applauds Mr. Horgan's stand. The federation launched its "Fight for $15" campaign in 2014.

Ms. Lanzinger said her organization would love to see the minimum wage rise more rapidly, but B.C. has a long way to climb.

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"We're now at $10.45, to go to $15 is a significant jump," she said in an interview.

"We recognize that employers need some warning, and that it has to be phased in. Ideally, we'd like that to happen more quickly, but I think over all we're pleased that at least someone has committed to a $15 minimum wage."

An Insights West poll earlier this year said 76 per cent of B.C. residents support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The poll results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell for years refused to raise the minimum wage – it remained at $8 an hour from 2001 into 2011. Premier Christy Clark announced an increase almost immediately after she formed government.

In addition to the 40-cent increase this September, B.C.'s minimum wage will rise by an additional 40 cents in September, 2017, to $11.25 an hour.

B.C. Jobs Minister Shirley Bond, in a statement, said as of next fall, the minimum wage will have increased six times since 2011.

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"We've worked hard to strike a balance where everyone shares in B.C.'s economic growth – while making sure we don't impede business' job creation and growth," the statement read.

Dan Baxter, director of policy development with the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, in an interview said its members are always concerned about large increases to the minimum wage. He said a jump to $15 could lead to reduced hours for some employees, or potentially even job losses.

On the political side, it's unclear what inroads the NDP will make as a result of the move.

Mr. Horgan's announcement strikes at an issue the B.C. Liberal government could be vulnerable on, according to Hamish Telford, an associate professor of political science at the University of the Fraser Valley.

"It puts [the B.C. NDP] firmly in the progressive movement, you know [U.S. Senator] Bernie Sanders calling for a $15 minimum wage, etc. But I'm not sure it's really going to help the NDP. Everyone knows they're the party of progressive politics and I'm not sure how much it wins over new supporters," he said in an interview.

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