Alberta is looking to shake up the hospitality industry by examining whether your local cocktail artist would take home more money if a wage differential was introduced.
An expert panel unveiled Thursday in Calgary by Minister of Labour and Immigration Jason Copping will also study the effects of the previous NDP government’s 47-per-cent minimum wage increase over four years.
“While a variety of studies and data sets exist around minimum wage, these have not been brought together and analyzed as (a) whole – particularly here in Alberta – but we are going to change that,” Copping said.
He added he is confident the panel members will use their “diverse perspectives” to provide solid advice.
The expert panel has nine members, including Restaurants Canada's western Canada vice president Mark von Schellwitz, Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) vice-president for British Columbia and Alberta Richard Truscott, two economics professors, business owners and servers.
It will be chaired by University of Alberta professor of economics Joseph Marchard, who produced a C.D. Howe Institute study claiming increasing Alberta’s minimum wage could cause the loss of up to 25,000 jobs.
Restaurants Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business have lobbied against the NDP minimum wage increase, which brought Alberta’s minimum wage up from $11.20 per hour in 2015 to $15 per hour in 2018, the highest in Canada. In addition, a lower minimum wage for liquor servers was eliminated in 2016.
Copping said the panel will begin work immediately and he expects to have a report on his desk “early next year.”
He also said the government will not touch the general minimum wage.
It will examine whether bringing back a wage differential for liquor servers would lead to a higher net income, and also bring together all existing studies on what impact upping the minimum wage has had.
One of the United Conservative Party government’s first moves after taking office this past spring was rolling back minimum wages for youth to $13 per hour.
St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud said after looking at the panel's makeup, she anticipates its recommendations will be very “one-sided.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they recommend reducing wages for that group,” she said.
Renaud added a wage decrease for liquor servers would disproportionately impact women who are raising families.
“It’s a disturbing path that we’re going down,” she said. “It always seems to be the groups that are squarely in the target, people that are not organized and don’t have the ability to lobby government.”
Morinville-St. Albert MLA Dale Nally said no decisions have been made yet.
“It could be that they come back and recommend that no action be necessary,” he said. “But it could be that (they) come back (and) say, 'You know what, this demographic would be better served with a wage differential' – then we’ll take a look at that.”
When asked about the panel’s strong ties to industry, Nally said there is a “healthy skepticism” surrounding the panel after four years of what he described as “drive-by” consolations by the former government. He argued this panel is filled with a “wide cross-section” of industry experts, associate professors and business owners.
Nally added servers are the biggest demographic on the panel.
Two of the three servers on the panel work at Blink Restaurant and Bar in Calgary. The restaurant’s owner, Leslie Echino, sits on the board of directors for Restaurants Canada.
“Rather than rely on anecdotal data, we want to put together a wide cross-section of industry experts that can do the research and put together some empirical evidence and make an informed decision about the best way to move forward,” Nally said.