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August 17, 2015

Perhaps the most controversial policy of Alberta's new NDP government is its plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018. Despite the headwinds of opposition, the Notley government should forge ahead and just do it. Paying a living wage is basic morality.

The argument against a sharp increase in the minimum wage is that jobs will be lost, mainly in small businesses tempted to try to do the same work with fewer staff. By that logic, no minimum wage or labour laws should exist; Canada should revert to the sweatshops of the early Industrial Revolution to ensure full employment.

In recent decades, North American manufacturing jobs have been moved offshore. Corporations boost profits by eliminating any factors that drive up the cost of goods for which the public clamour. This phenomenon no longer poses a threat for underpaid workers; the jobs have gone - their disappearance a condemnation of the moral vacuity of our economic system.

Minimum wage workers today are largely in service industries that need to be located where the service is provided. If one ordered a burger in Red Deer, for example, the wait for it to be cooked in western China would be unacceptable. Surely, people should be willing to pay an extra 25 or 50 cents for that burger, if that's what it takes to pay workers a living wage.

Henry Ford was a business legend because, among other reasons, he knew that if he wanted his workers to buy his cars, they would have to be paid decently.

So too today. Seattle multimillionaire Nick Hanauer campaigns for raising the minimum wage, arguing that to do so will "supercharge" a stagnant economy. Hanauer told CBC Vancouver Radio's The Early Edition in June, "The fundamental law of capitalism is that when workers have more money, businesses have more customers and need more workers.

"[There's been] essentially 100 years of wealthy owners telling workers that if wages go up, employment will go down, but in fact it never happens."

Since Pope Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, the Catholic Church has maintained that workers be permitted to form unions and to receive just recompense for their labours. This is not socialism; it is concern for the common good.

In fact, the issue is scriptural with foundations in the Old Testament prophets, the Gospels and the letter of St. James. It was James who wrote, "The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts" (5.4).

A people who respect God are will ensure society's workers are fairly paid. Raise Alberta's minimum wage to a level that respects the workers' dignity.