Bow Valley small businesses are concerned about the upcoming increase to the minimum wage that takes effect in October and a recently announced process to review the province's labour laws that many feel is happening too fast.
Those were the concerns expressed by leaders of several Bow Valley business groups at a recent roundtable on economic development hosted by the Minister of Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous.
For Banff Lake Louise Hospitality Association president Darren Reeder, his members are concerned about the minimum wage, which is set to increase to $15 an hour in October 2018, and the recently announced labour law review.
On March 13, Minister of Labour Christina Gray announced a public input process to review the province's labour legislation and the process focuses on the Employments Standards Code and the Labour Relations Code, neither of which have had significant updates since 1988.
Reeder asked that the minister consider the cumulative effect of the multiple policies being undertaken and reviewed by the NDP government on small business, especially those located in a tourism-based economy like Banff.
“When we see a layering of, what I would characterize as less than business friendly policies in the last couple of years, it has an impact and it certainly has an impact on tourism,” he said. “In our corridor, we are probably faring better than our other tourism partners right now, but with the next increase to the minimum wage to come in, there will be a rationalization in labour forces if things don't change and that is from a group of partners doing better than the average.”
The minimum wage increase and the carbon tax, he said, have an effect on the economy and he called on the government to consider the layering of these added costs on businesses in tougher economic times.
When it comes to the review of the labour legislation, Reeder asked Bilous to take concerns back to cabinet over the fact only a month was provided to the public for feedback. He said his organization supports reviewing the legislation, but in a more appropriate time frame.
“We now find ourselves with 26 days in which to provide input into two very complex pieces of legislation,” he said. “It feels like we have been dead ended in this process and we cannot meaningfully contribute to a discussion that both our workforce and employers need to be more meaningfully involved in.”
The public input closed Wednesday (April 19), and in particular the government looked at maternity, parental and compassionate care leaves; introducing leave for the care of critically ill children; other job-protected leaves in relation to the federal Employment Insurance program; the collective bargaining process; and improving enforcement and administration.
Canmore's Downtown Business Association, which is a business revitalization zone formed under the Municipal Government Act with taxing powers, also spoke about the concern over the increased minimum wage.
Executive director Beth Vandervoort said when she meets with members of that organization they express concerns about the next expected increase to the minimum wage (making it $13.60 at that time) and the fact it will come into effect in October, a slower season for the local economy.
“It is going up at a time when it is slower,” she said. “So it is the impact of raising wages at that time and season until things pickup at the end of April and May.”
Bow Valley Chamber of Commerce president Brian McClure told the minister his organization may be newly formed, but is a voice to advocate for small business in the region.
“We are very concerned about the aggregation of many of the things individuals here have already spoken about that directly impact, or are going to impact small businesses,” he said.
At the provincial level, McClure said increases to the minimum wage, the carbon tax and the review of the labour laws all affect small businesses and could “create an environment that small businesses don't have a reason to exist as there is no economic incentive.”
Bilous defended the minimum wage increase as a way to improve the quality of life for every day Albertans.
“If you look at who are primarily the minimum wage earners, they are women,” he said. “Sixty five percent of minimum wage earners are women.
“I appreciate the fact it puts an additional strain on businesses, we recognize that, but we also have to recognize this is helping to ensure people can pay the bills at the end of the month.
“Someone working full-time should not have to stop at the foodbank on the way home.”
As for the carbon tax, the minister defended the tax as an investment into renewables and clean technology that will bring down the costs of energy. He said energy efficiency would save money for Albertans, even though there is a cost up front through the levy.
“When I look at our Climate Leadership Plan, it is not just about the carbon levy and paying that, it is about investing in renewables and investing in clean technology that will be able to drive down costs,” Bilous said. “There are a significant amount of jobs that will be created in our province in that space and we have seen two pipeline approves because of our Climate Leadership Plan.”
He said if the carbon levy were to be scrapped, Alberta could expect the pipeline deals to also be cancelled and in the future the province could expect the federal government to impose its own carbon levy.
“I think there is again understanding and appreciation that businesses are hurting and I will take your feedback back to cabinet and I appreciate hearing your feedback,” he said.