Upcoming minimum wage increase a political decision, says MPP Jones

June 16, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Pickford

As the dust begins to settle following the provincial government’s bold announcement that Ontario’s minimum wage will be bumped up to $15 an hour by 2019, a number of local politicians, business people and advocates have voiced varying opinions on what will become the nation’s single largest wage increase in its 150-year history.

Rolled out as part of the Liberal government’s Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, the increase calls for the minimum to rise from $11.40 up to $14 an hour by Jan. 1, 2018, jumping up another dollar one year later. It also includes legislation that entitles employees to three weeks of paid vacation per year following five years of service, while workers will also be able to take up to 10 personal emergency leave days per year, two of them paid, without the need of an official sick note.

Premier Kathleen Wynne defended her decision to implement the changes when quizzed by media immediately following the May 30 announcement, stating an increased minimum wage would help to improve the lives of millions of Ontarians.

“Right now, 10 percent of workers in our province earn the minimum wage of $11.40. Thirty percent earn less than $15 an hour. That’s millions of people, many of them supporting a family on a wage that just doesn’t go far enough,” Ms. Wynne said.

Dufferin-Caledon MPP Sylvia Jones criticized the decision when contacted by the Citizen last week, stating the 32 percent increase to Ontario’s minimum wage was simply too large for the business sector to swallow over a relatively short 18-month period.

“This is an arbitrary increase that costs government next to nothing and puts all of the burden on our job creators. That concerns me,” Ms. Jones said. “It’s incredibly hard not to be cynical at this point. A 32 percent increase over two years is a huge increase. Not to be flippant, but it mirrors the type of thing we’re seeing on the hydro side… It will be a historic highest (increase) that anyone has ever tried to carry out in (an 18-month) time frame.”

Ms. Jones contends the announcement was nothing more than a ploy from the Liberals hoping to win back public support ahead of next year’s provincial election.

“I really resent that the Premier has tried to use this for political reasons. She has taken this and tried to use it as a political issue when it should be all about business,” Ms. Jones said. “I don’t think it’s fair, I don’t think it’s right.”

Bob Gordanier, who was last week announced as the local Liberal candidate for the 2018 election, acknowledged there are two sides to this issue, stating he’s already heard from local business owners who say they cannot afford to offer increased wages to their employees. He did though maintain his support for the increase, praising Premier Wynne on her decision.

“Personally, I think it’s nothing but good to have our minimum wage up there. If you look and see what wages are like in other areas of Canada and other cities… A better minimum wage has done nothing but good,” Mr. Gordanier said.

He added, “Don’t forget, this money, $15 an hour… The people making that money, you know as well as I do, that that person will spend every dime of his money. They’re going to spend it where they live… They’re going to spend it in Orangeville or Shelburne”

“At the end of the day, this is all simple maths. If I was making $12 an hour and now I’m going up to $15, that’s a $3 increase. In a 40-hour work week, that’s an extra $120. That person now has an additional $120 per week to make himself better, his family better and whatever or whoever around him better. There’s no doubt in my mind they will have a better quality of life earning $15 an hour, and, better still, they will spend it all in the local market,” Mr. Gordanier continued.

While Alison Scheel, General Manager of the Orangeville Business Improvement Area, acknowledged the importance of paying Ontarians a fair wage, she indicated, much like Ms. Jones, that such a steep increase would only serve to hurt local businesses.

“I’ve spoken to a few individuals in the community about the raise, the smaller mom and pop shops and family-run businesses probably won’t see too big a hit on this, but for some of our other businesses, some of whom employ up to 20 staff, this is going to make a huge difference to their bottom line,” Ms. Scheel said. “A 32 percent increase almost in one go is outrageous. It’s going to be a real tough go for some of our restaurants and other significant employers once this increase hits.”

One of several local businessmen to voice his opinion on the matter, Corey Sanders, Production Manager of SpandrelTech Ltd., said that while the wage increase will have a detrimental effect on his company’s current business model, it was his experienced employees currently earning more than $15 an hour that he felt sorriest for.

“We employ 30 full-time people in our small shop and not one of these people currently makes minimum wage, the reason for this is quite simple – minimum wage is a starting wage, a wage that should be reserved for people with minimum skills who are working a job that requires minimum effort, minimum education and minimum attendance. Not one of our employees falls into this category,” Mr. Sanders told the Citizen.

“Our employees are very skilled and dedicated to our company and in return we compensate them accordingly. There is currently a percentage of our employees making less than $15 an hour, but more than minimum wage. The people who are making $15 an hour or more are the ones I feel bad for the most. All of a sudden their hourly wage that they have worked so hard to achieve is worth significantly less,” he added.

Looking to the future, he believes it will be businesses and, ultimately, the consumers that will eventually foot the bill for this increase.

“The only ones ‘winning’ from all of this will be the government. What a wage increase like this will do is provide the government with more revenues through income tax, health tax, WSIB premiums, EI, CPP, HST… People need to see and realize that,” Mr. Sanders said. “No one is exempt from this increase. It will affect everyone and make everything cost more. In a matter of about two years, we will be paying more for literally everything, and paying more taxes to boot.”

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