British Columbia will move to a $15.20 minimum wage by June, 2021, running behind Ontario and Alberta, which will both hit the level within the next year.
Last summer, the B.C. NDP postponed the 2021 target promised during last spring's provincial election so an independent review panel – the Fair Wages Commission – could consider the timeline between the current $11.35 and $15.20 an hour.
On Thursday, Premier John Horgan said the panel advised moving to $15.20 with increases between now and 2021.
As of June 1, 2018, the B.C. minimum wage will be increased to $12.65 from $11.35 per hour. It will increase three more times each June thereafter to reach $15.20 on June 1, 2021.
The move to $15.20 comes in a province that had long lagged behind other jurisdictions on minimum-wage levels. From 2001 to 2011, under premier Gordon Campbell, the minimum wage remained at $8 an hour. Christy Clark announced an increase immediately after she formed government in 2011.
In 2014, the B.C. Federation of Labour launched a "Fight for $15" campaign. In 2015, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson pointedly called for the $15 wage, dubbing it an issue of affordability. However, Ms. Clark said the provincial economy was too fragile for the shock of such an increase.
More than 20 per cent of all workers in B.C. earn less than $15 per hour.
During a news conference, Mr. Horgan was asked what he would say to hard-pressed workers who feel an extra $1.30 to start is not enough.
"I would say to those workers that help is on the way," Mr. Horgan said, explaining that there are measures coming in this month's budget to address the housing and rent needs of British Columbians.
Also, the government has plans ahead for child care as part of its commitment to a $10-per day program, among other areas, he said.
Of the minimum-wage hike, Mr. Horgan said, "This is one component of our plan to make life more affordable."
Asked about concerns of the business community, Mr. Horgan said they now know what's coming. "Predictability and certainty allows businesses to plan and ensure they are prepared for these changes."
The B.C. Chamber of Commerce agreed. "Predictability and certainty are what's on our member's minds," Val Litwin, the commerce president and CEO, said in a statement.
"While front-loading the minimum-wage increase will cause challenges for some businesses, the four-year timeline, with projected increases, will help businesses plan and incorporate those costs into their budgets."
The chamber said it supports wage increases linked to the consumer price index to bring stability and predictability to the increases.
The BC Federation of Labour said it was pleased to see the increase, but disappointed that it would take several years to enact.
In a statement, federation President Irene Lanzinger said reaching $15 is better than any measure taken by the former BC Liberal government to address poverty wages and inequality.
"But making 500,000 low-paid workers who currently make less than $15 wait until June 1, 2021, to climb above poverty wage rates is not fair," Ms. Lanzinger said.
She said other provinces such as Ontario and Alberta have moved much more quickly toward a $15 target. Ontario's minimum wage will hit the $15 level on Jan. 1, 2019, and Alberta will reach $15 this October.
In Surrey, the province's second-most populous city after Vancouver, the city's board of trade said the stress of the minimum-wage hike will be tough on its members, especially as it comes after increased property taxes and federal tax changes, among other stresses.
"Our small businesses, especially those in the service sector, are vulnerable to increasing costs from various sources. I am especially concerned that this may be the straw that breaks some of them," board-of-trade CEO Anita Huberman said in a statement.