Big Idea #2 Give Working Albertans a Raise!

One of the big reasons working Albertans are increasingly anxious and stressed is because their wages have not kept up with the rising cost of living. The costs for things like groceries, gasoline, power, insurance and housing have all increased dramatically – but wages have not followed suit. In fact, Alberta under the UCP has seen both the highest inflation among all Canadian provinces AND the slowest wage growth. 

Gil wants to remind Albertans that slow wage growth is, in many ways, a policy choice by governments. He argues that many of the economic and labour market policies adopted by the UCP since 2019 add up to a deliberate wage suppression strategy – one that has been inflicted upon working Albertans at the worst possible time.

The situation has gotten so bad under the UCP that Alberta is currently in danger of losing the distinction of being Canada’s highest wage jurisdiction. A decade ago, our wages were, on average, 20 percent higher than the next highest province. That advantage has almost entirely disappeared under the UCP. In fact, both BC and Ontario are likely to overtake us in the very near future.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! In the same way that governments can pass policies that encourage investment growth, they can also enact policies that facilitate wage growth. Gil believes strongly that the NDP needs to be the party of wage growth. We need to tell Alberta workers that they deserve a raise – and show them how we would give them that raise if elected to form the next Alberta government.

Higher wages are good for workers – and the economy

Gil believes the provincial government’s wage policies should be based on three foundational tenets:

  1. The best way to help Albertans cope with the rising cost of living is to make sure their wages at least keep up with inflation.
  2. High wages are good for both workers and the economy. Workers with money in their pockets can better support their families – and they have more money to spend in the provincial economy. As former American President Franklin D. Roosevelt said “The best friend of business is a well-paid worker.”
  3. High wages should be an explicit policy goal of governments. Giving all Alberta workers a raise can be accomplished by government a) taking a progressive approach to productivity; b) actively pursuing full employment and tight labour markets; c) enhancing worker bargaining power; d) attaching wage-related strings to government spending and procurement; and e) by properly valuing public sector workers (instead of trying to screw them over).

A progressive agenda on productivity

Economists across the political spectrum agree that productivity growth is a necessary precondition for wage growth. They also agree that the main sources of long-term productivity growth are investments in machinery and equipment, innovation, intellectual property and education, and skills. High-wage economies are economies that invest in their people and in innovation. They are also economies that take the high road of technology and value-added industrialization rather low road of cheap labour and raw commodity exports. Unfortunately, the UCP has consistently taken the low road. If we want to give Albertans a raise, this needs to change.


Restore and increase funding for our universities – especially our big public research universities. They are engines for innovation and productivity growth.

Embrace government-led industrial policy (as outlined in Big Idea #1). Businesses in Alberta (and Canada, generally) have demonstrated a profound and ongoing reluctance to invest in innovation, machinery and equipment, even when provided with incentives from government. It’s time for our governments to stop waiting for the private sector to do the right thing. We need Crown Corporations and government industrial policy to put us on track for increased innovation and productivity.

Invest in infrastructure, both physical and social. The UCP’s gross under-funding of municipalities and their refusal to embrace federal programs like child care, dental care and pharmcare hurts our productivity and, ultimately, undermines the wages and living standards of working Albertans. As Premier, Gil’s would turn this situation around and prioritize these kinds of investments – as both key social AND economic policies.

Encourage, rather than discourage, tight labour markets

The United States, under the Biden Administration, is one of the only countries in the world where wages for ordinary working people have not only kept up with inflation over the past few years, they’ve exceeded it. The secret, according to economists like Arin Dube from the University of Massachusetts, has been tight labour markets and a defacto full employment policy. This is the opposite of what Canadian governments, especially conservative ones like the UCP in Alberta, have been doing. Employers, especially in the low-wage service sector, have continued claiming there are labour shortages even as high interest rates from the Bank of Canada have slowed the economy and reduced the ratio of unemployed Canadians to job vacancies to 1:1. As Premier, Gil would pursue, rather than discourage, tight labour markets and he would explicitly aim for full employment. 


Push back against the Bank of Canada’s high interest policies. The recent bout of inflation was caused by supply chain disruptions related the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, not an “overheated” economy or rising worker wages. And it was greatly exacerbated by corporations – especially oil and gas companies and grocery chains – using these shock as a pretext to price-gouge their customers. The Bank needs to take its foot off the brake and stop punishing workers for problems that they didn’t create.

Address employers’ addiction to temporary and undocumented workers. The Alberta labour market has been flooded by a large and increasing number of non-permanent residents – some are Temporary Foreign Workers, some are international students who spend more timing working than studying and some are undocumented workers who come in under travel visas. As AFL president, Gil was recently successful in convincing the federal government to rein in the most exploitative streams of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. As Premier, Gil would push to back against the growth Alberta’s vulnerable and exploitable non-resident worker population, in favour of growth through real immigration. He would also ramp up investigation and enforcement measures against employers using undocumented workers in industries like residential construction and hospitality. Tighter labour markets would lead to higher wages, which in turn would provide incentives for employers to invest in productivity improvements, which would open the door for even higher wages.

Build worker bargaining power

Higher productivity and tighter labour markets are necessary preconditions for wage growth – but experience with conservative governments over the past 30 years shows clearly that wage growth can become decoupled from productivity growth through the imposition of laws and regulatory frameworks that limit the ability of workers to take advantage of favourable labour market conditions.

As Premier, Gil would abolish the anti-worker laws passed by the UCP and introduce laws that protect wages and enhance worker bargaining power – all with the goal of making it possible for working Albertans to get a bigger share of the wealth they help to create through their labour.


Minimum wage: The UCP has frozen the minimum wage for more than five years, even as inflation spiked and literally all other provinces increased their minimums. The UCP also introduced a youth minimum wage that is two dollars lower than the adult minimum wage. “The minimum wage is supposed to be a floor that holds everybody up, but under the UCP is has become an anchor that’s dragging everyone down,” says Gil. As Premier, Gil would abolish the youth minimum wage and adjust the main minimum wage for the purchasing power that has been lost during the years of UCP freezes. He would then introduce a mechanism to ensure that the minimum wage is automatically adjusted for inflation each year.

Unionization: High wages are good for both individuals and the economy. The NDP has to become the party of that explicitly champions wage increases and a high-wage economy. But this goal can only be achieved if workers have bargaining power: and the best way to give them the bargaining power they need is to introduce a legal framework that actually encourages unionization. This should not be seen as a radical concept. Governments actively encourage and support investors to work together in corporations; similar encouragement and support must be given to workers to work together in unions. Gil would support the following policies:

  • Single-step union certification with majority support of workers (50 percent plus 1).
  • A ban on the use of replacement workers (aka) scabs during labour disputes (this kind of “anti-scab” legislation has been shown to help avoid strikes because it provides a more robust incentive for employers to bargain in good faith).
  • A ban on “captive audience” meetings by employers to discourage unionization. Both sides need to be given equal opportunities to make their case.
  • Automatic certification in the case of employer unfair labour practices during organizing campaigns. There have to be real consequences for illegal pressure and intimidation tactics used by employers to discourage workers from voting for a union.
  • Support worker political power. Workers can’t defend their interests unless they can act collectively both at the bargaining table with their employers and on the political stage. The UCP deliberately tried to undermine the ability of workers to be effective players on the political stage with the passage of Bill 32. This unconstitutional attack the ability of workers to organize politically around issues and elections needs to be repealed.
  • Fairness for construction workers: Gil would also enhance the bargaining power of construction workers by restoring their right to strike and abolishing the practice of double-breasting (which, for decades, has allowed employers bust unions by moving work to non-union spin-offs companies).

Other policies to ensure higher wages for Albertans

In addition to boosting productivity, encouraging tight labour markets and enhancing worker bargaining power, as Premier Gil would also take the following step to boost the wages of Alberta workers:

Stop trying to screw public sector workers: Gil would budget for at least annual cost-of-living increases for all public sector workers – because Albertans understand that we won’t be able to attract and retain nurses, teachers, educational assistants and other crucial public sector workers if their wages are continually falling behind inflation.

Procurement with strings attached: Gil would boost wages for Alberta construction workers by requiring that all publicly-financed infrastructure projects be built by unionized contractors paying union wages (similar to the approach taken in the NDP in both BC and Manitoba). In a similar vein, Gil would use government procurement spending to support local businesses and help create Alberta-based suppliers and supply chains. Preference would be given to Alberta-based companies that pay their workers well (as demonstrated by their willingness to negotiate union contracts with them).

Protect low-wage workers and “gig” workers: Gil would introduce sectoral bargaining in hard-to-organize sectors like retail, food service and hospitality – because the current “enterprise” model of union certification makes a mockery of the idea that union organizing a constitutionally protected right. A right isn’t really a right if it’s virtually impossible to exercise. Gil would also strengthen the bargaining power of precariously employed workers by introducing a Gig Workers Bill of Rights

Get rid of UCP rules that hurt non-union workers: Gil would abolish UCP rules that make it easier for employers to avoid paying overtime. He would also prohibit the practices of “contract flipping” to get rid of unions and the practice of labelling certain groups of workers as “independent contractors” when they are really employees.

Crack down on wage theft: Gil would crack down on wage theft by employers (including the theft of tips) by ramping up inspection and enforcement, including making it impossible for employers to access registry services (licensing etc) if they haven’t paid outstanding judgements owed to employees.

Move to a 40 hour work-week: One of the things that sets Alberta apart from other provinces is that we have an official 44-hour work week, rather than a 40-hour work week. Gil we bring Alberta in line with the majority of other provinces by introducing a 40-hour work week. This will increase earning for many Albertans.

Mandated pro-rated benefits: Many employers try to avoid paying benefits for their employers by keeping their hours under a certain threshold. Gil would introduce legislation requiring employers to pay pro-rated benefits for part-timers. This would give more workers access to benefits – and it would remove perverse incentives to keep hours low. The result would be more hour, more benefits and more income for Alberta workers

Small businesses need protection, too: In many ways, small business owners have more in common with workers than they do with big businesses. Big, monopolistic companies like Walmart have long undercut Alberta small businesses, but the situation has gotten much worse with the new, online behemoth, Amazon. Gil would look for ways that the Alberta government could work with other provinces and the federal government to protect Alberta small business from the predatory practices of oligopoly and monopoly corporations.

Previous: Big Idea #1: Pivot our energy economy towards the future