$15 minimum wage threat to students, local food

By MPP Toby Barrett

It was just four months ago Premier Wynne rejected a $15 minimum wage hike, while re-affirming her support for the policy all three political parties agreed upon whereby increases would be based on the consumer price index. “We’ve got a really good process that actually de-politicizes the increases to the minimum wage,” she said.

However, on May 30, to the disbelief of many, the Wynne government announced a 32 per cent increase, over 18 months, to Ontario’s minimum wage.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business reports their members were blindsided by this turn of events. CFIB was led to believe the Changing Workplaces Review, and any proposed legislation, would not include minimum wage. Members of the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association called the announcement a betrayal.

As a local restaurant owner emailed to me: “Minimum wage jobs are not meant to fully support a family. It is supposed to bolster a household income, start youth on the right track to gainful full-time employment, supplement retirement income, etc.” Citing increased costs of over $200,000 a year, he will look at “discontinuing his support of supporting and training young people to provide a bright future for them.”

My concern with the dramatic increase to $15 is the negative impact on Ontario’s productivity and competitiveness compared to neighboring jurisdictions.  A hike to $15 is a job killer. We should be doing everything we can to bring back Ontario’s economy and the jobs and prosperity that go with it.

Under a Toronto Star headline, “$15-an-hour is too much too soon”, Opposition Leader Patrick Brown slammed the lack of a cost-benefit analysis. “If you look at all the adjacent jurisdictions – Quebec, Manitoba, Michigan, Ohio, New York – those within the regional zone we compete with, they’re all eight, nine, 10, 11 dollars,” he argued.

Mathew Lau in the Financial Post reports that according to the 2014 Minimum Wage Advisory Panel established by the Ontario Labour Minister, raising the minimum wage reduces employment and is a bad way of reducing poverty. Indeed, the panel noted some studies “find that a higher minimum wage leads to an increase in poverty.”

We are also told the wage hike will smother the Wynne-supported local food initiative. In a recent news release, the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association said,  “This increase in cost will be unsustainable for many of the province’s fruit and vegetable growers, which will result in the reduction of the availability of locally produced fruit and vegetables as farms shut down.”

Barrie Hill Farms explained to the Barrie Advance that local asparagus could increase to $3.69 per pound to sit on a grocery store shelf beside imported asparagus at $2.49 per pound. Other parts of the world have friendly climates so production is higher and their cost of labour is much lower.

As Opposition Critic, I call on the Honourable Jeff Leal, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and also Minister Responsible for Small Business, to heed the advice coming in from Ontario’s agri-food, tourism and small business sectors. To my mind, a $15 minimum wage is based on cynical vote-getting politics – not evidence-based economics.

Even without an economic analysis we can conclude that a dramatic minimum wage hike is pointless if you don’t have a job to wake up to in the morning.