After months of dragging their feet on the issue, the BC NDP have finally announced they have committed to a $15 minimum wage… in June 2021. That’s just a short 39 months away!
At this point, there is no excuse for a province, especially a wealthier one like BC with a per capita GDP only $700 less than Ontario’s, to have a $15 minimum wage phase-in that’s longer than 18 months after the Ontario Liberals committed to that timeline. Keep in mind Christy Clark raised BC’s minimum wage by 28% over 12 months in 2011-12. The BC NDP is raising it by 34% in 39 months.
Even Premier John Horgan admitted, “we believe that 2021 is not overly aggressive, in fact it will be disappointing to some.”
Given BC’s affordability crisis, especially in the Metro Vancouver area, there it will be a lot more than “some” disappointed that their paychecks aren’t rising faster.
The BC NDP timeline to $15 is virtually the same timeline of the Ontario Tories – who would committed to raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2022. This shows the break the BC NDP is putting on the momentum of the Bill 148 victory in Ontario.
Blame the Greens?
While John Horgan and his government should be commended for the fight they’re putting up against the Transmountain Pipeline, they have disappointed on other major issues.
One month after the election, Green Party leader Andrew Weaver signalled his opposition to card check certification effectively killing the change for now. Horgan quickly dropped the issue even though it was in the NDP’s platform. Weaver also sent mixed signals on a quick phase-in for the $15 minimum wage. Some were quick to say the NDP had to back down because the Greens were propping up the government.
And yet, when the BC NDP decided to go through with the Site C dam over the objections of Indigenous and environmental activists, Weaver was not willing to bring down the government over the issue. Site C is a far bigger issue for the Greens and their voters than labour relations reform and the minimum wage. Blaming the Greens for the NDP backsliding on card check and a faster $15 phase-in is hard to believe.
The Canadian context
Although Ontario’s 18-month road to $15 was enacted by an unpopular Liberal government being pushed hard by a grassroots Fight for $15 and Fairness movement, it still sets a precedent for other governments in Canada, notably the NDP which claims to speak for labour. Having both the Alberta NDP and Ontario Liberal governments pass a $15 minimum wage ought to make it politically easier for the BC NDP to follow with a much faster phase-in than 39 months.
If an NDP government’s $15 phase-in plan is neither unprecedented nor speedy within Canada, and the Liberals can be prodded to support progressive legislation in response to labour and social movement organizing, what exactly is the point of the NDP?
Make no mistake while it is good another province is implementing a $15 minimum wage, the speed and framing of the increase serves only to embolden employers and right-wing groups which seek to delay and kill minimum wage increases across the country. For instance in Ontario, MPP John Yakabuski, a member of the Ontario PCs, stated in the legislature this past September:
“We have never said we are opposed to a $15 minimum wage. What we have said is that you need to take a step back and ask yourself whether the timetable is right. Even in British Columbia… Even they have said they’re going to slow down the implementation, because they recognize that the damage that could be done would actually cause the opposite effect of what they’re trying to do.
The effect that they’re trying to do, of course, is to help lower-income people, but if it’s implemented too fast it actually works against lower-income people because it costs them jobs. They’re slowing it down in British Columbia because they recognize that their implementation was too fast.”
Policies from above or power from below
The demand for $15 isn’t just a good policy. It is a demand that can be used by labour and community activists to build rooted campaigns and working-class power against employers and their friends in the political parties, including the NDPers we saw in Ontario who were more interested in talking small business tax breaks during Bill 148 hearings than what workers needed.
The Fight for $15 campaign in BC largely wound down its efforts in the months before the BC election, with many in labour banking on electing the BC NDP. But now, with little to no movement on the ground, it was left up to the BC NDP, and they underwhelmed.
When reforms are implemented from above by a government without a movement behind them, they are much more vulnerable to repeal or being undermined – like a long minimum wage freeze after reaching $15. When people organize, fight and win together, they are far more capable of resisting a counterattack from a hostile government. This is what is meant by shifting the balance of class forces: building actual collective power against the business and political class.