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Robertson backs call for B.C. minimum wage hike

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says the provincial minimum wage should be boosted 30 per cent to $15 an hour to help workers deal with the costs of living in Canada’s third-largest city.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says the provincial minimum wage should be boosted 30 per cent to $15 an hour to help workers deal with the costs of living in Canada's third-largest city.

Mr. Robertson, recently re-elected for a third term that could make him Vancouver's longest-serving mayor, on Tuesday backed a call for the hike from the B.C. Federation of Labour.

The B.C. minimum wage is $10.25 an hour.

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If Mr. Robertson pushes the issue vigorously, it could complicate relations with the provincial government, especially as he seeks support for a multibillion-dollar subway along the Broadway corridor. The B.C. Liberal government has taken a hard line on the minimum wage, which was increased in 2012 after a decade-long freeze.

The mayor said he has pressed transit in recent meetings with Premier Christy Clark, but would raise the minimum wage the next time he meets with her. "I look forward to addressing this with her next time we talk," he told reporters after his remarks to a federation rally.

In a boisterous speech, Mr. Robertson told delegates at the bi-annual convention he was happy to support the "Fight for $15," echoing calls for an increase from outgoing federation president Jim Sinclair.

"Our city is facing incredible pressure on affordability. [It's] one of the most expensive places to live in Canada, North America, and we need to have a strong minimum wage."

John Winter, president and CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, called Mr. Robertson's proposal "irresponsible," saying B.C. businesses could never afford such a sharp, sudden hike in wage costs.

"It's just out of the question and just not something businesses should consider," he said.

Mr. Winter noted that many mayors seem to be getting involved in areas where they have no control, such as pipelines.

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Mr. Robertson said an increase would be an important step toward dealing with poverty, and urged the B.C. government to act.

Seattle and San Francisco have won international attention for their moves toward a $15 minimum wage. But Mr. Robertson said Vancouver, as a city, cannot take similar measures. "Advocacy is our key role. I expect my council to continue with strong support to see the minimum wage increased."

The municipal election reduced the council majority of Mr. Robertson's Vision Vancouver party.

Asked what the business community would make of his call, Mr. Robertson said the minimum wage was increased to $10.25 with minimal impact despite protests.

"If all small businesses are raising [pay] up to the minimum wage being at $15, I think we see a level playing field and we see people able to address affordability across the board. It's really about dealing with this massive income inequality we see rampant now in North America."

Mr. Robertson said Vancouver could have a higher minimum wage than the rest of the province given the cost of living there. "It could be a discussion with the Premier, but I think it's more important that we see it across the province."

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