Local business struggling with carbon levy, minimum wage increases

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With increases in effect for both the carbon levy and minimum wage in 2018, many Albertans are feeling the impact on their pocketbooks – particularly small business owners.

According to a press release issued by the province, the carbon levy has increased to $30 per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions, compared to $20 in 2017. The revenue collected through this levy will be invested into environmentally-friendly projects, including renewable energy and green infrastructure.

“In 2017, funds from the Climate Leadership Plan were used to protect and improve the things that make a difference in the lives of Albertans, including badly needed LRT lines in both Calgary and Edmonton,” the press release stated. “Both projects will create thousands of jobs, reduce emissions and keep Albertans moving.”

However, many small business owners are wondering how they will recover the additional expense – especially with minimum wage increasing to $15 by October. According to Marwan Sleiman, owner of Xtreme Donair in Airdrie, operating costs have “skyrocketed” in the last few years.

“Nothing is cheap nowadays,” he said. “People think you’re gouging them, but you’re not – I just have to cover my costs.”

Not only is Sleiman spending more on wages and deductions, he said his costs for meat and produce have increased significantly – more than doubled in just three years, he estimated. To accommodate these rising operating costs, he said he’s had to charge more for the items on his menu.

“I’ve also been working more hours than I ever have,” Sleiman said. “You’d think that after 14 years in business, I could afford to hire more staff and take a little more time to spend with my own family, but that’s not going to happen.”

It has also impacted the way Sleiman staffs his restaurant. A few years ago, he said he employed four full-time staff members as well as four additional part-time employees – many of whom were still in high school. Currently, he has just four employees total – and he said he’s “more particular” about who he hires.

“It’s financially impossible for me to hire that many people at that wage, especially full time,” he said. “And when you’re paying someone that much, you need to be able to rely on them a little bit more.”

According to the province’s press release, 60 per cent of households in Alberta will see a carbon levy rebate averaging between $300 to $540. This rebate is automatically applied to income taxes filed for 2016 and later, and is non-taxable and refundable – Albertans will receive it even if they pay no provincial income taxes.

Still, Sleiman said all residents will be impacted by how these increases will affect small businesses.

“We’ll all have to raise our prices to compensate, so the wage increase won’t actually buy you anything more,” he said.

“There has to be a break for a business owner – or you’re going to see a lot more businesses shutting down. It’s impacting everybody, and it’s not helping the cause.”

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