Wildrose shadow jobs, skills and training minister Grant Hunter spent Tuesday touring the province speaking with small business owners about the impacts of the potential $15 minimum wage.
Hunter began the day in Okotoks and followed the QE2 up to Innisfail where he spoke with various small business owners then making his way to Red Deer, Lacombe and Edmonton.
Sylvan Lake News obtained interviews with Wildrose MLA Don Macintyre for Sylvan Lake-Innisfail and MLA Hunter following the tour, with Macintyre stating he was pleased to hear his party was touching base with small business owners in his riding.
Macintyre feels Sylvan Lake may feel more pressure in their small business sector than Innisfail due to the prevalence of the tourism industry, adding it’s important for his party to keep a close eye on unemployment in the coming months.
“Sylvan Lake is a tourist mecca with over 900,000 tourists through annually mostly in the summer time,” said Macintyre. “All of the businesses along Lakeshore Drive that hire high school students at minimum wage provide a great way for students with no work experience to gain valuable life experience.”
He added all three of his children spent summers along Lakeshore working various minimum wage jobs. He added one thing his party fears in the coming months, especially during Sylvan Lake’s summer will be less opportunity for young people to find employment due to higher incurred costs for small business owners.
“One thing I don’t think the current provincial government fully understands, is there are jobs especially in the retail/tourism industry that don’t warrant or possess more than our current minimum wages value, especially to the business operator,” stated Macintyre. “On the other side of the coin is students in high school who maybe don’t have any work experience, don’t bring $15 an hour worth of work experience to this job especially when they are just new to the workforce.
“So imposing something like this is really going to harm the ability for businesses owners to be able to hire youth and that demographic is going to be substantially hurt in Sylvan Lake.”
Hunter, who is also the MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner, stated this was a reoccurring theme heard throughout his tour on Tuesday. He added he has been hearing from businesses owners, most will be absorbing the cost of the first %10 increase which took place on Oct. 1 – however, the next round of increases will likely lead to lay offs.
“Once people start losing jobs, especially young people – that’s when we will see people saying, ‘hmm maybe I’m really not sure I like the higher minimum wage’,” said Hunter. “It almost seems like it’s been a perfect storm, small businesses have been hit with a 20% corporate tax and now this incoming $15 minimum wage. It’s all been exacerbated by really difficult times in Alberta with oil prices being down and royalty revues are uncertain – at this point it kind of looks like it could only get worse before it gets better.
“In talking with some small businesses who don’t necessarily have high margins, they’re saying they don’t know how they are going to make a 50% increase in minimum wage.”
Hunter added his party has been studying minimum wage for around 90 years and he feels they understand the issue well.
“One things that is fairly evident from our research is every time you increase minimum wage by 10% you increase youth unemployment by 8% – so it’s a terrible, terrible trade off for youth,” said Hunter. “The NDP wanted it to be a living wage – but minimum wage shouldn’t be a living wage, it should be a starting/training wage. Minimum wage is there for youth to be able to gain skills, learn how to work with people, be on time, and how to have good work ethics.”
“A lot of the food and hospitality industry, such as Dairy Queen, McDonald’s, and hotels are front line for teaching our youth how to do this, so what’s going to happen when the NDP raise minimum wage by 50%? We cam look at that previous equation and estimate youth unemployment will rise by 40%.”
MLA Macintyre and MLA Hunter both stated they hope to see the provincial government take a step back and analyze the impacts before proceeding with future raises as they are concerned it could have a lasting impact on a generation where youth unemployment is so high, in addition to the a time where ‘thousands of jobs are being lost in the oil and gas sector’.
“Who is going to be affected by this – I understand they made a campaign promise – but this is one they can step back from and say to Albertans they just want to make sure they are doing the right thing and I think people wouldn’t beat them up for it,” said Hunter. “They need take a look at it, see what needs to be done and go forward from there, but make sure it’s going to help everyone.”