Thomas Mulcair is calling for a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour, a position the NDP leader will put to a vote when Parliament resumes next week.
The New Democrats want it to start at $12 and rise gradually to $15 by 2019. The party will put forward the idea on Tuesday for a vote in the House of Commons.
The minimum wage would apply to only about one million workers in federally regulated jurisdictions such as transportation, financial services, telecommunications and broadcasting, and other federal employees. Canada had a federal minimum wage until 1996, when the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien eliminated it.
NDP MPs discussed the idea earlier this week at a policy retreat in Edmonton, but had not said what the rate should be.
Mr. Mulcair is scheduled to announce the policy officially on Saturday in Vancouver, but confirmed the plan in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
"We think it's important to send a signal," he said, adding that the move could encourage provinces to raise their minimum wages, which apply to the rest of the work force. "It is a good idea economically to put money in people's pockets."
The NDP leader said his party is challenging the "low-wage agenda" of a Conservative government that has increased the number of low-paid temporary foreign workers in Canada.
Mr. Mulcair and the NDP have made a strategic decision to announce major policy positions more than a year before the next federal election, which is scheduled for Oct. 19, 2015. Mr. Mulcair is also promising to scrap Conservative plans to change the qualifying year for Old Age Security from 65 to 67 by 2029.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau regularly declines to provide specifics on his policy platform, explaining that details will be released during the election campaign.
The NDP minimum wage proposal comes amid growing signs that businesses are reluctant to hire. The interim CEO of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce told The Globe this week that "a lot of businesses put the brakes" on hiring lately as they assess the impact of the increase in June of the Ontario minimum wage to $11.
Provincial minimum wage rates would continue to apply for all non-federal jobs, whether in the private sector or government regulated areas.
Current rates vary by province, ranging from a low of $10 an hour in New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador and the Northwest Territories to a high of $11 an hour in Nunavut and Ontario.
The impact of minimum wages on the labour force has long been a subject of heated debate. The NDP notes that a 2006 federal government panel called for the federal minimum wage to be re-instated.
However, researchers with the Library of Parliament reviewed studies of the issue conducted in Canada and the United States and noted many found a connection between minimum wages and job losses.
The paper stated that few federally regulated workers are paid at rates near the minimum wage.
"Finally, even though only an extremely small population of federally regulated workers could directly benefit from such a proposal, its potential adverse impact on employment among minimum-wage workers nationally could be far-reaching if provinces and territories are pressured into similar minimum-wage-setting action," says the research paper, which was written in 2008 and reviewed by the library in 2012.
Mr. Mulcair said the benefit of releasing policy ideas well before an election is that it allows time for proposals to be debated.
"We've got to start getting back to a place where the wealth of this country is being more easily shared," he said. "It's a question of attitude. ... We think that governments can play an active, positive role in creating a generation of well-paid jobs."