Bracing against law of less returns
Innisfail entrepreneurs fear revenue losses and less staff with new minimum wage hikes
Tuesday, Jul 28, 2015 06:00 am
To drop into T-N-T Tradin-Post on Main Street is to peek back into time.
Owner Ken Sorensen has one corner set aside as a museum, a little room packed with artifacts from yesteryear. He will regale any customer about the time he met legendary film star Marilyn Munroe on the set of her 1954 move River of No Return, a flick that was largely filmed in Banff National Park. Sorensen has photos to prove it.
As much as Sorensen loves the past he’s not too happy about what he sees today, notably governments getting in the way of business. And as a small entrepreneur he’s not about to offer accolades to the new provincial NDP government for its plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018.
“They can’t see the forest through the trees. I don’t think much of this government anyway,” said Sorensen, who’s hard pressed to say anything positive about any government, be it federal, provincial or local. “I don’t like any law that dictates what a person is worth. They are worth whatever they are worth to me when they get in here. That should be my determination. They want to earn more then they have to work harder.”
The new NDP government announced in late June the province’s minimum wage would rise $1 to $11.20 on Oct. 1. The liquor server minimum wage will jump to $10.70 an hour, from $9.20, which is the first of two phases to end the rate differential by 2016.
The NDP’s plan to hike the minimum wage, which was the lowest in the country, has arguably been its most controversial issue since Premier Rachel Notley first announced the plan during the spring provincial election.
Dan Merkley, owner of Subway restaurants in Innisfail and Penhold, said while he understands the argument that low income families need a higher minimum wage to make ends meet, extra employee costs to small businesses will be passed on to consumers, and force employers to operate with less staff.
“I don’t think anybody’s saying minimum wage shouldn’t go up. We’re just saying let’s do it in a rational fashion that’s going to lessen the impact for business,” said Merkley. “Small business in Alberta is huge. Other than oil and gas and perhaps farming, small business is the driving force in Alberta.”
And even though the government, led by the premier and Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson, held consultations in June with 48 representatives from business and industry groups, the controversy refuses to go away.
An on-line online petition against the NDP plan was launched in July by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which is already armed with its own survey showing 79 per cent of small business owners in the province oppose minimum wage hikes while only 21 per cent support it.
One of the biggest issues concerning Innisfail entrepreneurs is that most retail outlets are family-owned. They’re already facing enormous competition pressures from well-financed chain stores in Red Deer and Olds. Raising the minimum wage, even if it’s just for a few employees, will put added pressure to an already struggling bottom line.
“The big corporations of course can afford these extra little hits but with my theatre I feel it one hundred per cent,” said Century Theatre owner Derek Austin, who relies on youth workers to run his business. “It’s going to make it more difficult to have the number of people I have. I see that as a real detriment to the young people that want to get some experience and be employed and learn some things in the real market.”
Dana Melnyk, owner of The Gift Loft on Main Street, said the NDP plan could also wind up having the worst possible consequences for the people it was supposed to help.
“My major concern is that in the long run more people will be unemployed,” she said. “The whole point of this (increase) is to help the people that are making minimum wage but if they’re not working how is it helping them?”
Mike Thorne is the owner of Chad’s Smoke Shop on Main Street and Sweet Leaf Services, a local landscaping and lawn maintenance company. Thorne, who is disappointed the government did not do more “proper” studies on how the new minimum wage law would affect the economy, has nevertheless resigned himself to the new reality. However, he added there are several elderly clients from his lawn maintenance service who are already worried whenever he mentions projected fee increases.
“There is no other way to do it,” he said. “The government says that is what you got to pay and that is what I got to pay. The economy is going to have to make it work, and that means prices on everything will have to go up. I am going to have to increase prices on my lawn maintenance.
“We can’t start giving everybody a large amount of a wage increase and not expect repercussions,” said Thorne, who despite the gloomy forecast still holds a hint of optimism the issue will work itself out. “What I expect is going to happen is that it is going to take a couple of years for everything to start getting back and making sense.”
But Ken Sorensen won’t wait. He wants no part of the new minimum wage standards. He vows to move forward on his terms.
“There are too many laws already,” said Sorensen. “I won’t abide by that because then I will just hire people for nothing.”