The province has convened a panel of experts with backgrounds in economics and the hospitality industry to assess Alberta’s minimum wage.

The nine-member panel will “study and publish economic data related to minimum wage changes,” said Labour Minister Jason Copping during a press conference at the McDougall Centre in downtown Calgary.

The group will also look at whether a differential is needed for hospitality workers who serve alcohol.

“Together, the panel members will provide a range of perspectives on minimum wage based on their experience and expertise,” said Copping.

The work will begin “immediately,” he added, and should be completed by early 2020.

Members of the panel will include:

  • Joseph Marchand, associate professor of economics at the University of Alberta
  • Anindya Sen, professor of economics at the University of Waterloo
  • Mark von Schellwitz, vice-president (western Canada) for Restaurants Canada
  • Richard Truscott, vice-president for British Columbia and Alberta for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business
  • Jason Stanton, owner of the Running Room
  • Branko Culo, owner of Express Employment and a member of the Alberta Enterprise Group
  • Delphine Borger, a server at Blink Restaurant
  • Rachel Donnelly, a server at Chop Steakhouse
  • Nicole Lyckama, a server at Blink Restaurant

Marchand will act as chair of the panel.

“These being labour market policies, the outcomes of interest will primarily be labour-related, such as employment, hours worked and earnings,” he said.

“Distributional outcomes, such as inequality and poverty may also be evaluated. In our collection of data, the main challenge will be weighing this evidence by the best identification practises, in order to separate the policy effects from changes in labour demand and the overall economy.”

Alberta’s former NDP government had increased the minimum wage from $10.20 when it was first elected in 2015 to a $15 hourly wage in 2018. 

Premier Jason Kenney heavily criticized that move during the election campaign, saying it would curtail hiring of employees across the board. 

Once elected, the UCP lowered the minimum wage from $15 to $13 an hour for students under the age of 18.

At the time, Kenney said of the move, “$13 is a heck of a lot better than making zero.”

Official Opposition Leader Rachel Notley slammed Kenney’s minimum wage cut, saying that it wasn’t the right way to be treating hard working Albertans. 

In a release Thursday afternoon, ministry of labour critic Christina Gray accused the UCP of "stacking the deck against working people."

“We know a $15 minimum wage means more money in the pockets of Albertans who will spend it in our local economy. This is good for workers and jobs,” she said.

“We also know it’s wrong to pay a group of workers, made up of mostly women, a lower minimum wage than everyone else.”

Meanwhile, other groups like Vibrant Communities Calgary (VCC) note that an increase in the provincial minimum wage is ‘infinitely closer to the living wage’ in Calgary, thanks to the NDP’s policies.

VCC notes the gap between Calgary’s living wage of $16.45 per hour and Alberta’s current minium wage of $15 an hour is at a historical low of eight per cent.

Research done by the group also found that there has been a reduction between 2015 and 2017 to the number of low income earners in Calgary, dropping from 9.8 per cent to 6.9 per cent. 

VCC executive director Franco Savoia estimates that poverty is costing the Alberta government between $7 billion and $9 billion a year and a decrease in minimum wage will only make things worse.

“I don’t want to be critical of the government but this is where we will lose our because we have made progress,” Savoia said.

“There are fewer people living in poverty in Calgary. There are fewer people living in poverty as we define it in the market basket measure than there were four or five years ago, so these policies have made a difference and were now seeing it at the living wage.”

(With files from CTV News Calgary's Mark Villani)