Calgary Election 2017: Advocacy group pushes council to introduce living wage for city workers

The downtown skyline in Calgary, Alberta on May 1, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Larry MacDougal

An Alberta-based advocacy group is calling on candidates in the upcoming Calgary election to introduce a living wage for city workers if voted into office on Oct. 16.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said Joel French, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, “to make sure they’re able to have a basic standard of living and to support their families.”

French said the policy should apply to city employees and contract workers.

“These are the lowest wage earners in the province,” he added. “So, when you put a little more money in their pockets every week, they’re actually spending all of that money in their communities because they’re just trying to support their families.”

LISTEN: Public Interest Alberta calls for living wage for Calgary city workers

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French said data from Statistics Canada’s labour force survey shows one in five – or 340,000 Albertans – are making equal to or less than $15 an hour, which he said underscores the need for the increase in the minimum wage.

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The Alberta government is set to boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour as of Oct. 1, 2018.

An economist at the University of Calgary said Friday while those statistics are correct, it doesn’t provide a complete picture.

“There’s lots of different ways of measuring this,” said Trevor Tombe, associate professor of economics. “Looking at what a person’s typical hourly earnings are itself doesn’t necessarily imply a person is living in poverty.”

Tombe said a family may have one parent earning minimum wage, while the other earns substantially more. He adds that some studies suggest the minimum wage hike could lead to a loss in income if employment hours are rolled back as a result. However, he said that hasn’t occurred in Alberta.

He said there are “more targeted ways” to increase income levels, pointing to a wage subsidy like the Alberta Child Benefit as one possibility.

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Tombe said it’s not the job of cities like Calgary to bring in policies that raise income levels.

“The tools available to the city are much more limited,” he said.

But French disagrees, saying it “takes all levels of government to solve a complex problem like this.”

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