Panelists on government minimum wage review have strong ties to industry groups

Alberta Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping announced what he called a "diverse" panel to assess the province’s minimum wage on Thursday, but critics say it is anything but inclusive.

Links between several panelists and Restaurants Canada raises eyebrows

Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping announced a panel to review the minimum wage in Alberta on Thursday. (Jocelyn Boissonneault/CBC)

Alberta Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping announced what he called a "diverse" panel to assess the province's minimum wage on Thursday, but critics say it is anything but inclusive. 

The nine person panel headed by University of Alberta economist Joseph Marchand.

It's part of a pledge in the United Conservative Party platform that called for analysis and compilation of data on the increased minimum wage, as well as an examination on whether to create a lower wage for those who serve alcohol. 

The pledge is in response to the previous government's hike in the wage from $10.20 in 2015 to $15 in 2018.

The UCP government has already created a tiered minimum wage, allowing businesses to pay workers who are less than 18 years old and work fewer than 28 hours a week $13 per hour, as opposed to the $15 minimum that applies to everyone else. 

In addition to Marchand, the panel will be made up of:

  • Anindya Sen, economics professor at the University of Waterloo.
  • Mark von Schellwitz, vice-president of Restaurants Canada.
  • Richard Truscott, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
  • Jason Stanton, owner of The Running Room.
  • Branko Culo, owner of Express Employment in Edmonton.
  • Rachel Donnelly, a server at Chop Steakhouse.
  • Delphine Borger, a server at Blink Restaurant.
  • Nicole Lyckama, another server at Blink Restaurant.

Asked on Thursday how many people on the panel earn minimum wage, Copping replied: "I can't answer that question."

Views of the panelists

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business and Restaurants Canada have both lobbied against the minimum wage increase and Blink Restaurant in Calgary, where two of the three servers on the panel work, hosted a Restaurants Canada event in February calling for changes to Alberta's minimum wage policies.

The owner of Blink, Leslie Echino, also sits on the board of Restaurants Canada, as does the owner of the company that controls Chop Steakhouse, Alan Howie. 

Blink server half-sister of owner, not disclosed

In addition to the connections with groups lobbying for changes consistent with the UCP government, CBC News learned late Thursday that Blink server Delphine Borger is the half-sister of the restaurant's owner Leslie Echino.

CBC News asked why the relationships weren't disclosed, why the servers are only from restaurants with memberships on Restaurants Canada's board of directors and why servers from non-affiliated restaurants were not included.

A government spokesperson ignored the questions, instead providing this statement.

"Ms. Borger was chosen to be on the panel not because of her familial ties but because of her experience in the hospitality industry. We have full confidence that the experience and expertise of Ms. Borger, and that of all panel members will result in meaningful contributions to fulfilling the mandate of the panel," Brittany Baltimore wrote in an email.

Claims of job losses tied to increases

One of two economists on the panel, Anindya Sen, wrote a column for the Financial Post in 2017 with the headline, "Evidence shows immigrants will get fewer jobs as Ontario ratchets up minimum wage to $15."

He also wrote a C.D. Howe Institute memo saying Ontario's minimum wage increases would likely lead to job losses and suggested income tax reductions were a better policy option for low-income individuals. 

Marchand, himself, previously published a commentary with the C.D. Howe Institute that said an increase in Alberta's minimum wage could hurt low-wage workers by reducing employment by up to 25,000 jobs.

When asked about that study on Thursday and whether he's already made up his mind on the issue, Marchand pointed to another study out of UBC that came to the same conclusions. 

Marchand said he was not aware of who was on the panel until it was announced by the minister in front of the press. 

Critics of panel & evidence line up

University of Calgary political scientist Melanee Thomas, didn't mince words when responding to the makeup of the panel.

"I don't know anyone else, but I like political nepotism better when it at least makes a feeble attempt to be subtle," she tweeted.

"Say what you want about the previous government, but they certainly did that better than this crew."

Economist Trevor Tombe said there is little to support significant job losses from minimum wage increases.

"There's no evidence the minimum wage increase 'killed thousands of jobs' in Alberta in general or among young people in particular. Perhaps the panel will uncover some, but the best we have now suggests otherwise," Tombe tweeted.

  • Listen as economist Trevor Tombe shares his thoughts on the panel with The Homestretch:

CBC Calgary Political Panel discuss UCP minimum wage panel

4 years ago
Duration 4:42
Featured VideoCBC Calgary Political Panel discuss UCP minimum wage panel

No plans to roll back wage except for alcohol servers

Copping said on Thursday there is no plan to roll back the minimum wage beyond those who serve alcohol. 

He said the government would rely on the studies and recommendations that come from the panel, but repeatedly said evidence indicates raising the minimum wage as quickly as it was raised in Alberta could have negative consequences. 

"Alberta currently has the highest minimum wage in the country and too many hard-working Albertans are struggling to find work," he said at the start of the media event.

Marchand said the panel will meet for the first time at the beginning of September.

  • Watch CBC Calgary's Political Panel discuss the UCP minimum wage panel:


Drew Anderson

Former CBC digital journalist

Drew Anderson was a digital journalist with CBC Calgary from 2015 to 2021 and is a third-generation Calgarian.

With files from Michelle Bellefontaine, David Bell, The Homestretch and CBC Calgary News at 6