Alberta shelves minimum wage panel report without releasing recommendations

The Alberta government shelved a report from an expert panel it appointed to examine the effects of a $15 minimum wage and a possible lower wage for tipped servers.

Findings no longer relevant due to pandemic, inflation, Alberta Labour spokesperson says

A server wears a mask as she brings drinks to patrons on a pub's curbside patio in the Byward Market in Ottawa, on Sunday, July 12, 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019, an expert panel was tasked with looking at whether tipped servers could make more money if their hourly wage was lower. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The Alberta government shelved a report from an expert panel it appointed to examine the effects of a $15 minimum wage and a possible lower wage for tipped servers. 

The panel, chaired by Joseph Marchand, a University of Alberta economist, was appointed in August 2019 by Jason Copping, who was Alberta's minister of labour at the time. 

The panel submitted its report in February 2020, right before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the document was never made public.

"Our government has received and reviewed the work of the minimum wage expert panel. Due to the economic effects of COVID, the changing labour market and inflation, much of the report is no longer relevant," Roy Dallmann, press secretary for Labour Minister Kaycee Madu, told CBC News in an email.

Alberta Labour has no plans to release the report, and the provincial government will maintain the $15 minimum wage, Dallmann said.

The expert panel — which cost the provincial government about $24,492 — was a reaction to the former NDP government's decision to raise the minimum wage in October 2019. 

Groups representing restaurants and small businesses criticized the government at the time, suggesting it was moving too quickly and the initiative would cost jobs. 

The United Conservative Party promised in its 2019 campaign platform that it would form a minimum wage expert panel, if voted into power.

The panel would have two tasks: study the potential effect of the wage bump on the labour market, and determine whether food and liquor servers would make more money from tips if they were paid a lower hourly rate.

Alberta used to have a lower minimum wage for servers until the former NDP government eliminated it in 2016.

It isn't known if the expert panel's report recommended restoring the lower wage rate. 

The panel member included Mark von Schellwitz, vice-president of Restaurants Canada, an organization that has advocated for a reduction in the server minimum wage.

Von Schellwitz told CBC News he could not say what the panel recommended because he is bound by a non-disclosure agreement.

He said, however, lower wages allow restaurant owners to afford to give servers more hours, which allows those employees the opportunity to earn more tips.

Opposition NDP leader Rachel Notley said the Alberta government needs to make the expert panel report publicly available. 

"Albertans have a right to see the report. They paid for it," she said, adding the recommendations could provide insight into what a UCP government may try to implement if the party wins the next year's provincial election. 

The government instituted a $13 minimum wage for youth in June 2019 because it believed higher wages were dampening youth employment rates. 

The lower rate had no effect on how many young people got jobs, Notley said.


Michelle Bellefontaine

Provincial affairs reporter

Michelle Bellefontaine covers the Alberta legislature for CBC News in Edmonton. She has also worked as a reporter in the Maritimes and in northern Canada.