Two years after the NDP government's first minimum wage increase went into effect, a third increase has been mandated as of Oct. 1. In 2014, Alberta's minimum wage was $10.20 an hour. In 2015, that jumped to $11.20, then to $12.20 in 2016 and $13.60 in October 2017. The NDP government has promised to increase the minimum wage again next year, to $15 an hour.
Heather Bitz, at the Drumheller Chamber of Commerce, says many Chambers of Commerce in Alberta are still unsure about the quick increases.
"Chambers still have concerns with that," said Bitz. "And, as it greatly impacts the business community, we're still trying to work through that and the government still sounds like they're determined to go ahead to $15 next year, so we're trying our best to prepare for that."
Bitz said that, in 2015, Alberta Chambers introduce two policy resolutions related to the minimum wage. The first was a recommendation that the NDP government slow down their implementation of a $15 minimum wage until studies have been done to see what effect it would have on the unemployment rate, business start-up and closure rates and food bank usage. The second resolution asked that the minimum wage be reviewed each year and that further increases be tied to the cost of living, rather than a pre-determined number.
"Most of the minimum wage earners work for small business rather than the larger corporations," explained Bitz. "Small businesses face a very competitive market and often push their profits low just to keep the doors open, so we know these changes will impact them, most definitely."
The minimum wage isn't the only thing affecting small businesses, said Bitz. Between the carbon tax, the new federal tax changes and an increase in Canada Pension Plan premiums, Drumheller businesses are seeing more and more expenses piling on.
"It seems like it's been compounding for the last couple of years now. So, it's hurting and I don't know when it's going to stop," admitted Bitz. "But, I believe business in Alberta is resilient and we will see through this. We're trying to stay optimistic and get to the end of these changes and still keep business doors open."
According to Stats Canada, unemployment in the Camrose-Drumheller area has decreased slightly since last September, from 8.4 per cent to 8.0 per cent.