Ont. seeks in­put on min­i­mum wage

Move that is feared by busi­nesses be­ing brought to the pub­lic

Kenora Daily Miner and News - - ONTARIO NEWS - ALLISON JONES

TORONTO — On­tario’s bid to raise the min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour — a move that is feared by busi­nesses but has the sup­port of some promi­nent econ­o­mists — is be­ing put to the pub­lic this week.

The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed leg­is­la­tion on labour re­forms, which also in­cludes equal pay for part-time work­ers, in­creased va­ca­tion en­ti­tle­ments and ex­panded per­sonal emer­gency leave, starts com­mit­tee hear­ings Mon­day that will travel the prov­ince.

The bill would boost the min­i­mum wage, which is cur­rently set to rise with in­fla­tion from $11.40 an hour to $11.60 in Oc­to­ber, up to $14 on Jan. 1, 2018, and $15 the fol­low­ing year.

Busi­nesses are strongly op­posed to the in­crease, par­tic­u­larly the quick pace of it. A coali­tion of groups in­clud­ing the On­tario Cham­ber of Com­merce, Restau­rants Canada and the Cana­dian Fran­chise As­so­ci­a­tion are send­ing Premier Kath­leen Wynne a let­ter Mon­day, slam­ming the “ar­bi­trary” in­crease.

“Many On­tario em­ploy­ers, es­pe­cially small busi­nesses, are now con­sid­er­ing clos­ing their busi­ness be­cause they do not have the ca­pac­ity to suc­cess­fully man­age such re­forms,” they write.

“The busi­ness com­mu­nity was wholly aligned with your gov­ern­ment’s pre­vi­ous ap­proach, which al­lowed for in­creases to the min­i­mum wage that were pre­dictable and pro­tected against ar­bi­trary po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion-mak­ing.”

Busi­ness groups had been call­ing for the gov­ern­ment to first per­form an eco­nomic anal­y­sis, and have now com­mis­sioned their own, which the coali­tion said will be com­plete next month.

“To plan ef­fec­tively and pro­tect jobs, em­ploy­ers need pre­dictabil­ity and time to ad­just the cost of other in­puts where we can,” the coali­tion writes. “There is no way to ab­sorb and ad­just to a 32 per cent hit in less than 18 months.”

Karl Wirtz, the CEO and founder of a pack­ag­ing com­pany in Bramp­ton, Ont., said he may have to con­sider bank­ruptcy.

“This is some­thing that has got me scared out of my mind,” he said.

The min­i­mum wage in­crease will mean an ex­tra $1 mil­lion for WG Pro-Man­u­fac­tur­ing’s 200 — soon to be 245 — em­ploy­ees, Wirtz said. About half of them make min­i­mum wage and the rest will have to get com­men­su­rate pay bumps, he said.

The com­pany, which does co-pack­ag­ing for foods and con­fec­tionery prod­ucts, is fo­cused on growth, Wirtz said, and as such is op­er­at­ing within tight mar­gins. He hasn’t bud­geted for an ex­tra mil­lion dol­lars a year and is locked into con­tracts with big cus­tomers. The only way he sees out of the pric­ing struc­ture is bank­ruptcy.

“I want all of our work­ers to have a good in­come and good abil­ity to have a good life­style,” Wirtz said. “I re­spect that. Truth­fully, I do. But you have to give busi­nesses an op­por­tu­nity to phase it into their pro­gram. So yes, let’s shoot for $14, let’s shoot for $15, but scale it over the next com­ing years.”

Eco­nomic Development Min­is­ter Brad Duguid said the gov­ern­ment is sen­si­tive to the needs of busi­nesses, smaller ones in par­tic­u­lar.

“We want to en­sure there’s not un­in­tended con­se­quences, be­cause these are com­plex poli­cies ,” he said.

“If there’s more work to be done in terms of the de­tails and potential un­in­tended con­se­quences, that’s some­thing we’re cer­tainly happy to do with our busi­ness com­mu­nity.”

A re­cent study out of Seat­tle made head­lines for con­clud­ing that its min­i­mum wage in­crease was ac­tu­ally detri­men­tal to low-in­come work­ers. But its method­ol­ogy has been crit­i­cized and it bucks the trend of sim­i­lar stud­ies con­clud­ing the op­po­site, noted Cana­dian economist Lars Os­berg.

He is one of 50 econ­o­mists in Canada who just signed a let­ter in sup­port of a $15 min­i­mumwage.

“For many years, many in the eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sion were also very con­cerned about this pos­si­bil­ity of dis­em­ploy­ment of peo­ple with min­i­mum wage jobs,” said Os­berg, an eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor at Dal­housie Univer­sity.

“A whole raft of new stud­ies in the last 20 years have in­di­cated that dis­em­ploy­ment ef­fect is very small ... On av­er­age you could say it’s small to neg­li­gi­ble.”

While busi­nesses’ con­cerns are un­der­stand­able, he said, stud­ies show that in­creas­ing the min­i­mum wage in­creases peo­ple’s pur­chas­ing power, as well as con­sump­tion and eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in gen­eral.

“So in that sense it’s stim­u­la­tive to the macroe­con­omy,” he said.

On­tario’s leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee will travel this week to Thun­der Bay, North Bay, Ot­tawa, Kingston and Wind­sor, and next week to London, Kitchener, Ni­a­gara Falls, Hamil­ton and Toronto.

ERNEST DOROSZUK/ TORONTO SUN FILES

On­tario’s bid to raise the min­i­mum wage to $15 will be put to the pub­lic this week. Eco­nomic Development Min­is­ter Brad Duguid said the gov­ern­ment is sen­si­tive to the needs of busi­nesses, smaller ones in par­tic­u­lar.

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