Blog | June 23, 2015

Larry BooiWe have only begun to see the host of changes that are likely to flow from the election of Alberta’s NDP government, but the signs that “things are different” were certainly evident in the government’s Minimum Wage Consultation with about twenty organizational representatives that I attended on behalf of PIA on Friday June 12.I have been part of many government “consultations” over the last two decades, and in the past ten years in particular almost none of them was worthwhile or even deserving of the name “consultation.”But this one proved to be very different. It was introduced by Premier Rachel Notley and Minister Lori Sigurdson; the minister stayed for the entire afternoon, paid close attention to the presentations, and summarized what she had heard after two and a half hours of intensive discussion.It was also refreshing to have a clear sense of what was actually up for discussion from the outset. The premier and minister stated without equivocation that the government would be proceeding to implement the increase to $15 per hour, and would also be eliminating the two-tier structure based on a lower rate for liquor servers. Input was being sought not on whether to do so, but on how to implement these changes.It was in marked contrast with the recent past, where too often the government said that “everything is on the table,” but it usually became clear that they had settled in advance on their preferred options and the real purpose was merely to be able to say that they “had consulted.”In my comments, I began by quoting from a November 24, 2014 media release for the “No Change” report on child poverty done by Edmonton Social Planning Council, Alberta College of Social Workers and Public Interest Alberta. In that release, the Chair of the Report stated, “We know how to eliminate child poverty… Sadly, what is missing is the political will to make this a priority.”The person who made those comments in November, then-PIA vice president Lori Sigurdson, was now sitting across from us as Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, conducting the consultation about how to implement this bold new policy on minimum wage. Indeed, things really have changed – and it is apparent that the “political will” has arrived as well.In the discussion, I tried to emphasize two key points: the need to ensure that the minimum wage initiatives are part of a broader comprehensive approach to poverty reduction in our province, rather than a stand-alone policy; and the need to inform Albertans of the benefits of this approach to the whole society, and how we all do better collectively when inequality is reduced in these ways.I was impressed with the arguments, evidence and commitment of the people at the table. It turned out to be a genuinely refreshing and broadly-based discussion, with some clear disagreement over aspects of timing, but within a context of support for the key directions.Overall, a definite sign that things are changing, and for the better.