As of Tuesday, British Columbia will officially be the lowest of the low – it will pay the lowest minimum wage in Canada and have one of the highest costs of living.

Until now, B.C. and New Brunswick had been tied with the lowest minimum wages at $8 an hour.

But New Brunswick – which has a 34 per cent lower cost of living than B.C. – is boosting its wage to $8.25, leaving low-income British Columbians the poorest paid workers in Canada.

NDP Leader Carole James said it’s a distinction for which we – or more specifically the provincial Liberals – should be “embarrassed.”

She said it will be even worse in June 2010, when the controversial HST kicks in, making the Best Place On Earth the most unaffordable.

James pointed out that when Premier Gordon Campbell was elected eight years ago, B.C. had the highest minimum wage in Canada, and there hasn’t been an increase in all that time.

“There isn’t anyone I know who hasn’t seen their cost of living go up in the past eight years, and I think it’ll be a sad legacy of this premier,” James said.

Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said it’s “shameful” and a “disgrace” that low-earning British Columbians are forced to live in poverty.

“We have one of the highest costs of living and the lowest minimum wage, and there’s no way the government can justify that,” he said.

Sinclair said it’s “ridiculous” to argue raising minimum wage would hurt the economy or the restaurant industry – which has been opposed to raising the minimum wage, arguing it will lead to layoffs.

But in some provinces, people who make tips earn less than minimum wage. In Ontario, where the minimum wage is $9.50, servers earn $8.25. In Quebec, where the minimum wage is, $9 they earn $8.

“It’s crazy to argue that when people have money in their pocket it’s bad for the economy,” said Sinclair.

“The minimum wage is not a livable wage. In contrast, the premier has lowered the wage 25 per cent for new hires and immigrants.

“And what he’s done with his own wage? He raised it by 109 per cent. If he were to raise the minimum wage by the same amount he raised his compensation, the minimum wage would be $15.80,” he said.

Sinclair added that minimum wages are adjusted to inflation relatively consistently in most other provinces and territories, and their businesses and economies are functioning just fine.

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