Premier David Alward is blaming New Brunswick's high unemployment rate as one of the reasons behind the Progressive Conservative government's decision to delay a planned minimum wage increase.
New Brunswick shed 1,900 jobs in June and saw the province's unemployment rate pushed up to 9.6 per cent.
Alward told reporters on a conference call on Friday that if the government had raised the minimum wage to $10 per hour as scheduled on Sept. 1, it might have pushed that number even higher.
"That's where our biggest concern was and ultimately my comment is to see people continue to work at $9.50 an hour," Alward said.
"When if we had increased it to $10 right now, we could've seen people not work."
Labour Minister Martine Coulombe indicated this week the Progressive Conservative government was proposing to delay the minimum wage hike until April 1.
Coulombe's statement is a reversal of her position on May 6 when she told the legislative assembly the minimum wage increase would remain in place.
Several lobby groups, such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, put pressure on the Alward government to halt the planned increase.
The groups said the minimum wage increase would cost jobs.
The provincial government has said it will increase the minimum wage to $10 on April 1 and use that delay to study the idea of imposing a two-tiered minimum wage.
New Brunswick's minimum wage was $8 per hour in April 2009 and was scheduled to hit $10 on Sept. 1.
The plan to increase the minimum wage was rooted in the recommendations coming out of the poverty reduction working group.
Alward was a part of the poverty reduction working group, which was created by the former Liberal government. The working group recommended the minimum wage rise to the Atlantic average by Sept. 1, 2011.
New Brunswick's minimum wage of $9.50 per hour is ahead of Prince Edward Island's $9.30, but behind Nova Scotia's $9.65 and Newfoundland and Labrador's $10.
However, New Brunswick will have the lowest minimum wage in Atlantic Canada on Oct. 1 when Prince Edward Island boosts its rate to $9.60. P.E.I. will again hike its minimum wage to $10 on April 1, 2012.
Alward 'shredding' poverty strategy
The Alward government's backtracking on the minimum wage commitment is igniting controversy by workers who were counting on the higher wages and the Liberals, who invited the Tories to be a part of the poverty reduction plan.
Kelly Lamrock, the former minister of social development, said the Alward government is "shredding" the poverty reduction strategy.
The poverty reduction working group included politicians, business leaders and people on social assistance. The recommendations were agreed to by all of the participants.
Lamrock said Alward could have publicly opposed the minimum wage policy at the time, but instead he signed off on the document and showed up for all the formal press conferences.
"It's hard to imagine a more vulnerable group to whom Mr. Alward could have lied. And it is really difficult to imagine an issue that more needed to be above politics and I think that is the biggest loss overall," he said.
"The reason we involved both parties is we wanted the issue of poverty to be above the cut and thrust of politics."
The former Liberal cabinet minister said the minimum wage policy was fair to businesses and workers.
The higher wages would entice people to leave social assistance and enter the workforce, meanwhile Lamrock said businesses are receiving tax cuts to help them.
The decision to hold off on the minimum wage increase is going to be tough on some of the province's most vulnerable families, he said.
"We are talking about simply moving New Brunswick to the average in Atlantic Canada. And I'm not sure that the single mom who gets up and works 45 hours on her feet in the service industry, I'm not sure she needs to subsidize business by giving up that $40 a week that probably makes a very big difference," he said.