Opposition leaders propose different minimum wages for youth, servers

Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel and United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney are suggesting youth and servers who earn tips should be paid different minimum wage rates than adults, who will start earning $15 an hour on Monday.

Alberta political leaders pitch ideas to municipal politicians at AUMA conference in Red Deer

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney addressed delegates at the AUMA meeting in Red Deer earlier this month. (CBC)

Young people and servers who earn tips should be paid different minimum-wage rates than adults, who will start earning $15 an hour on Monday, Alberta opposition leaders say.

The leaders offered hints of their party's platforms during speeches Friday morning at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association convention in Red Deer. 

Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel proposed three minimum wages. Under his proposal, the rate for workers 17 and under would be left at $13.60 an hour, according to an Alberta Party news release distributed on Friday. Servers who earn tips would be paid an hourly rate of $14.

Mandel said that servers have said their earnings have dropped and there are fewer jobs in the industry thanks to minimum wage hikes.

United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney said the minimum wage has led to job cuts. But Kenney said he has no plans to roll back the $15 rate if he is elected premier in next spring's election. He told reporters in Red Deer on Friday he is interested in holding consultations that could lead to the creation of different wage rates.

"Australia has an age-graduated minimum wage, Ontario has a differential for people who serve alcohol, because they get bigger tips," Kenney said. "There might be other ways of structuring this."

Monday's increase will be the final step in the NDP government's promise to implement a phased-in $15 minimum wage. The government has been increasing wages in stages since the $15 goal was first announced in 2015. A lower rate for liquor servers was eliminated in October of that year. 

Finance Minister Joe Ceci dismissed the idea of a lower youth wage when he was asked about it Thursday by Bassano deputy mayor Tom Rose at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association in Red Deer.

Rose, who owns the local Subway restaurant, asked Ceci and his government to consider having two wage rates.

"I certainly hear you," Ceci replied. "But there is no plan to do that."

Ceci said paying people a $15 minimum wage helps give workers more money to spend in local businesses.

Put funding formula into law

Kenney said a UCP government would commit to renewing the Municipal Sustainability Initiative, or MSI, a key source of funding for municipalities, when it expires in 2021.

He said he wants to give municipalities more certainty when they draw up their budgets.

"There won't be massive increases in transfers in this province, I think we all understand that," he told the crowd. "But there still should be predictable funding, and municipal infrastructure must be part of that. And I believe it should be legislated," 

AUMA president Barry Morishita, the mayor of Brooks, and St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron, a member of the AUMA executive, said they were encouraged that the leaders recognized the need for stable, predictable funding for municipalities.

Morishita acknowledged there are questions about possible cuts, and said the AUMA has been pushing to have municipal funding tied to government funding.

If provincial revenues increase, municipalities should get more money, he said, and if revenues shrink, it would be reasonable for municipalities to expect less.

"We have to ride with the economy, too, but it should be set to some sort of formula."

Municipalities have told the province many times they're willing to "ride the lows" as long as "the highs are rewarded," Heron said.

"If they can put the formula into provincial legislation, then we have that certainty, and it's not at the whim of the government of the day."

Minister of cutting red tape

Kenney urged municipal politicians to help in his push to reduce government regulations. He said if the UCP forms government next year he would be interested in following former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell by appointing a minister to reduce government red tape and bureaucracy.

He argued that would make Alberta businesses more competitive.

"One of the core commitments of the United Conservative Party in the next election will be reducing the red-tape burden by one-third and [appointing] a senior minister to lead that process," Kenney told reporters afterward.

Mandel's proposals include changing MSI allocations so smaller municipalities can complete substantial projects and allowing money to be used for maintenance.

"For too long we've been focused on building instead of maintaining," he said. "This needs to change, and refocusing MSI will accomplish this."

He said the Alberta Party also wants to create a regional infrastructure fund to pay for projects like a spur line in southern Alberta to help move products, and a solar farm in a community where a coal-fired power plant was recently closed.

Mandel also proposed selling publicly backed bonds to fund affordable housing in areas where it is needed the most. Interest owed to bond-holders would come from rental income.

Alberta Liberal Party Leader David Khan said his party supports the principle that provinces should provide proper funding to municipalities and not download services onto them.

He said the Liberals also support giving Edmonton and Calgary new taxation powers. He said Vancouver and Toronto have city charters allowing them to earn revenue.