B.C. has not raised the minimum wage since it was boosted to $8 in 2001, while also undercutting it with the creation of a $6/hr training wage for the first 500 hours for some positions. Now, almost nine years later, B.C. claims the lowest minimum wage in all of Canada. Alberta is closest with a minimum wage of $8.80, followed by the Yukon at $8.93. Ontario is the highest at $10.25.
During the UBCM conference last month a group of 21 mayors sent a letter to Premier Gordon Campbell backing a call by the B.C. Federation of Labour to boost the minimum wage to $10/hr, and eliminate the $6/hr training wage.
Whistler's Mayor Ken Melamed was not on the list, although he was asked to join the effort. However, without discussing the issue with council and stakeholders and agreeing on a resolution, Melamed said they could not commit to the campaign.
"The campaign to raise the minimum wage in B.C. has been going since about 2007 or thereabouts... and we brought the suggestion to the Chamber of Commerce to get their feedback," said Melamed. "And the feedback from the business community is that there would be little support for Whistler getting behind that initiative. When I heard about the new drive at this year's convention, my sense was that nothing has changed locally between a couple of years ago and now with respect to the Chamber."
Overall, Melamed says he doesn't believe many people in Whistler are paid the minimum wage because of chronic employee shortages. However, if the wage was increased for the province, he could see wages increasing here as well, to continue to remain competitive when attracting workers.
"My sense is that the business community is already struggling to meet payrolls and a higher minimum wage would be very challenging for the community. But on the other side of that B.C. has the lowest minimum wage in Canada and that's something that should be looked at.
"Locally, we've done a lot of research as to what a living wage is, and where we've been addressing that in the most detail is the Affordability Taskforce of Whistler2020, which I've sat on. There is an appreciation, and a lot of monitoring, of what it costs to live here, what percentage of their income that people spend on rent and food and how much people have left over after that."
Melamed says there is no employee association in the resort, but suspects that if there were it would be in favour of raising the minimum wage.
Before the RMOW would advocate either way on the wage issue, Melamed says it would follow a process where they would consult the chamber again, as well as review the issue with the Whistler2020 task force.
"Those would be the first two places we would start," he said.
The B.C. Federation of Labour argues that a $10 minimum wage would boost roughly half of B.C. workers currently below the poverty line over the poverty line. The B.C. Fed is advocating for an increase to $11 the following year. After that point they are advocating that the minimum wage be indexed so that it would always rise with the cost of living.
So far the Liberal government is opposed to boosting the minimum wage. When the issue came up in the Legislature in April, Labour Minister Murray Coell pointed to the province's decision to raise the threshold at which income could be taxed and waiving Medical Service Plan premiums for people who earn less than $20,000 a year.
He also noted that the average wage in the province is currently around $22.60 an hour, which is the third-highest in Canada, and boasted of creating 390,000 new jobs in B.C. by reducing taxes.
The B.C. Chamber of Commerce does not have an official statement regarding the latest call to raise the minimum wage, but has been opposed such increases in the past.