When the NDP government pledged to drastically hike Alberta’s minimum wage by 50 per cent, I took immediate concern for our province’s small businesses and the people they employ.
In October, the first of three increases was implemented, and I set off on a provincial tour to find out how small business was being affected and what the implications of this policy decision has been for business owners, workers, consumers and communities.
I visited restaurants, hair salons and mechanic shops, and met with entrepreneurs from all walks of life from Okotoks to Airdrie to Lacombe.
I knew beforehand this risky move would be bad for business, but what I learned on my tour was very concerning.
Every single business owner I spoke with told me they were going to automate, raise prices, keep shorter hours or reduce the number of employees they had on staff.
This is the new reality: fewer jobs for our most vulnerable workers – particularly youth and seniors – and less good, full-time jobs with benefits for workers.
The NDP’s decision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour feels like it was based on ideology, not sound economic thinking. I can understand the idea of raising the minimum wage to match inflation. That’s sustainable. But now is not the time to push forward with this ill-conceived 50 per cent plan. Now is the time to step back and look closely at who will be hurt by this action. Seeing both sides of the coin will help the government create effective poverty reduction measures without hurting business.
The best way to help vulnerable workers is and always has been to empower them with more skills and more education. This has been the best poverty reduction measure to date, and we have been studying this issue for over 90 years.
What the NDP fundamentally fails to understand is that entrepreneurs go into business to make a profit, and most small businesses are only running on a 2-10 per cent profit margin. If the government is creating market conditions where businesses cannot make a profit, they will stop growing and stop hiring, and ultimately cease to exist.
The NDP thinks entrepreneurs are greedy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Small business people are our family, friends and neighbours. They are the lifeblood of our communities, and they want to see Alberta succeed. They are also some of the most giving people in our communities, of both time and money. Penalize small businesses and your economy falters, reward small businesses with low levels of red tape and low taxes and your economy becomes the envy of the country.
I will be tabling letters from the folks I met on this tour when the fall session begins. I am convinced that after the NDP MLAs read the stories of these community builders they will see this issue from both sides.
Small business people are everyday Albertans just like you and me who want a fair chance to build a business and be a part of the Alberta story.
We need to focus on what’s best for the economy and jobs, and put a stop to these risky experiments.
Grant Hunter is the Wildrose Jobs Shadow Minister and the MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner