Alberta's minimum wage set to rise again, as opposition warns it will kill jobs

Alberta's minimum wage workers will see an increase in their hourly pay from $12.20 to $13.60 starting Sunday.

On Sunday, the province's minimum wage will rise to $13.60

Labour Minister Christina Gray stands beside Mark Bellows, co-owner of the Local Omnivore, during a media event to trumpet the latest wage increase.

Alberta's minimum wage workers will see an increase in their hourly pay from $12.20 to $13.60 starting Sunday.

The boost is the second increase to the province's minimum wage implemented by Premier Rachel Notley's government, which has pledged to hike the wage to $15 an hour by October 2018.

"Nearly 300,000 Albertans earn less than $15 an hour," Labour Minister Christina Gray told reporters Friday at a restaurant in Edmonton's west end. 

Most of those workers are women, Gray said, and one in three has a young family. Some are single parents, and more than half work full-time.

The latest increase in the wage comes as the economy recovers and more Albertans are returning to work, Gray said. 

'Killing thousands of Alberta jobs' 

The United Conservative Party has repeatedly urged the NDP government to rethink its plans, and hold off on pushing the wage to $15 an hour by next fall, when it will become the highest in the country. 

"There are lots of spin-off effects of an increase in the minimum wage that have a negative impact on other employees, or business owners who really are in a very tough spot right now," said UCP interim leader Nathan Cooper.

UCP labour critic Prab Gill warned the government's policy "risks killing thousands of Alberta jobs." 

The opposition party wants the government to release an independent analysis on the impact a minimum wage increase will have on an already weak economy.

"It's deeply disturbing that the NDP government continues to put ideology ahead of evidence," Cooper said. "It simply cannot bring itself to do the right thing and push pause on the implementation of this policy."

Economist predicts 25,000 lost jobs 

In a commentary published by the C.D. Howe Institute earlier this week, University of Alberta economist Joseph Marchand said an increase could hurt low-wage workers by reducing employment by up to 25,000 jobs once the hourly minimum reaches $15.

But Ian Hussey, a political economist at the Parkland Institute, said Marchand's study was flawed. 

"That report's not credible," Hussey said. "The report doesn't take into account inflation."

Hussey said the actual number of jobs lost could be closer to 2,000. 

"Our economy has recovered, in the last 12 months our economy has added 19,000 service sector jobs, and ATB financial actually released a new study saying Alberta restaurant and bar receipts are at an all-time high."

At the UCP leadership debate on Thursday, the four men running to lead the party agreed the province should put the brakes on the plan to reach $15 an hour.

"Our campaign is calling on the NDP to freeze the wage at $12.20," said candidate Doug Schweitzer.

But Jason Kenney warned against any talk of cutting back wages.

"Let's not allow the NDP to scare hundreds of thousands of Albertans into saying that the conservative party is going to cut their wages," he said.