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Alberta premier-elect Rachel Notley waves as she speaks the media during a press conference in Edmonton on Wednesday, May 6, 2015. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Alberta premier-elect Rachel Notley waves as she speaks the media during a press conference in Edmonton on Wednesday, May 6, 2015. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Alberta Election

Alberta NDP’s promise of $15 minimum wage wins praise from labour Add to ...

The Alberta NDP’s promise of a $15 minimum wage – which would be the highest in the country – is being praised by labour and is creating nervousness among business as the party platform moves toward reality after this week’s landslide victory.

A big increase in the minimum wage, higher income taxes for the wealthiest 10 per cent and a stronger focus on fighting climate change are among the concrete examples of the change promised by Rachel Notley’s successful NDP campaign for power in Alberta.

“We’ll see a difference on tax policy, we’ll see a difference on policies related to things like the minimum wage and we’ll see a difference on issues related to royalties and the energy sector,” said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. “This is not something to be afraid of. This is something to be celebrated and embraced and in fact, that’s exactly what Albertans voted for. They didn’t just vote for a new face. They voted for a new approach.”

The AFL is eager to see movement on these promises, especially the pledge to raise the minimum wage in stages from $10.20 to $15 by 2018.

Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has also promised to raise the federal minimum wage to that amount, but the promise was seen as largely symbolic given that the federal minimum wage covers roughly one million employees and only a small fraction of them work in minimum-wage jobs. The federal minimum wage currently matches the minimum wage set by each province.

The Alberta promise would represent a significant change, given that provincially regulated jobs do cover the most common sources of low-wage employment.

A 2014 study by the Alberta government found that only 1.5 per cent of employees in the province made the minimum wage, well below the national average of 6.8 per cent. Most of Alberta’s minimum wage workers are under the age of 30 and more than half are employed in accommodation and food services and retail.

The provincial government in Ontario faced significant opposition from employer groups when it raised the minimum wage to $11 in June 2014, giving Ontario the highest minimum wage in the country.

Dan Kelly, President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the minimum wage promise will be one of the main causes of “nervousness” among business owners in Alberta.

“Obviously that would create huge pressures on business,” he said.

Another key policy change promised by the Alberta NDP is a new, more progressive tax system.

The NDP’s platform said the party would scrap various fee increases recently proposed by the Tories. It also promised new tax rates of 12 per cent tax on income over $125,000; 13 per cent on income between $150,000 and $200,000; 14 per cent on income between $200,000 and $300,000 and 15 per cent on income over $300,000.

The corporate tax rate would raise to 12 per cent from 10 per cent, the NDP promised.

The province’s heavy reliance on the energy sector means the party’s package of promises related to environmental protection and royalties is now facing closer scrutiny. The platform promised a new “Resource Owners’ Rights Commission” would report within six months “on measures to promote greater processing of Alberta’s energy resources, and to ensure a full and fair return to the people of Alberta for their energy resources.”

The platform said an NDP government would reduce the province’s “over-dependence on raw bitumen exports and create more jobs with more upgrading and processing here, rather than in Texas.”

The stated goal of these policies is to reduce “Alberta’s over-reliance on high oil and gas prices” and to raise new revenue that would be invested into Alberta’s Heritage Fund, which is meant to protect the province’s finances over the long term should natural resources revenue fade.

On the environment, the party promised to “take leadership on the issue of climate change.” It said carbon capture and storage programs would be ended and the funding would be re-directed toward public transit. The party also promised stronger environmental standards, inspection and monitoring.

On social policy, the NDP promised new child-care spaces, a Women’s Ministry, smaller class sizes and the phasing-in of all-day kindergarten “as Alberta’s finances permit.”

Ms. Notley promised all of this could be done while still balancing the budget by 2018. The leader initially said during the campaign that the books could be balanced by 2017, but later said that was an “error” based on a miscalculation.

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