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Planned minimum wage hike at risk in Ontario

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) is calling on Ontario Premier Doug Ford to repeal the hiked minimum wage that was implemented by the former Liberal government.

Ford, who was elected with a majority government this summer, stated in his election campaign that Ontario was "ppen for business", and it seems the OCC now wants him to put his money where his mouth is. By taking money out of the hands of Ontario's poorest, most marginalized workers who are just trying to survive on minimum wage.

Minimum wage in Ontario jumped to $14 from $11.60 as of January 1, 2018. Under Bill 148, passed under the former Liberal government, minium wage is set to jump to $15 as of 2019. Ten per cent of Ontario workers currently make minimum wage, and 30 per cent make less than $15 an hour.

"Change in the workplace isn't just on the horizon, it’s here," Wynne said back in 2017 when the bill was announced. "People are working longer, jobs are less secure, benefits are harder to come by and protections are fewer and fewer. In a time of change like this, when the very nature of work is being transformed, we need to make certain that our workers are treated fairly."

The OCC stated recently that the minimum wage jump scheduled for 2019 is "too fast, too soon" for the province. 

"Businesses across the province are experiencing real consequences from this legislation's lack of stakeholder consultation and unrealistic implementation timelines," said OCC President Rocco Rossi this August in a statement to the press.

It seems that the OCC is comfortable with keeping the minimum wage at $14 per hour, but wants to be consulted on any further increase, with what it calls a comprehensive economic impact analysis, before moving to the further hike of $15.

Ford cancels basic income pilot

Unfortunately, we are stuck with Doug Ford for a few years, so he could actually vote to repeal Bill 148, just like he recently cancelled the Ontario Basic Income pilot.

The Ford government announced last month that it will  cancel the province's basic income pilot project, leaving the thousands of people stranded as of March 31, 2019.

Many people on the program were expecting the pilot to remain active, and face economic uncertainty now that the program has been cancelled.

The pilot was launched under the former Liberal government in 2017, and was set to run for three years at a cost of $150 million.

Over 4,000 low-income Ontarians are participating across several cities across Ontario, including Hamilton and Thunder Bay. Single participants receive up to $16,989 per year, while couples receive up to $24,027, less 50 per cent of any earned income.

In his spring election campaign, Ford initially promised his government would preserve funding for the pilot program.

Following the government's cancellation of the pilot, four participants have decided to sue the government. The intent to file is for "anticipatory breach of contract, negligence, and misfeasance in public office."

Tom Cooper of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction said the six-month wind down will not be enough time for many people.

"[The wind-down period] still leaves many basic income participants in impossible situations," he said. "Many have signed one year lease agreements with landlords and they can't get out of those leases and they can't afford their new rent. There's many people who plan to go back to school in September. Whether that will still be a reality for them with a longer wind down is questionable."

The mayors of four Ontario cities -- Hamilton, Thunder Bay, Brantford and Kawartha Lakes -- are all urging federal Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos to take over the pilot, arguing that the program provides valuable data that could be used to address poverty. The data collected was to be watched by governments of the U.K. and Japan.

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he has doubts about the claims the Tories are using to justify cancelling the pilot. The project's success or failure can't be determined without getting to the end of the program and evaluating the data gathered, he said.

Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod's statement makes it seem to like she cares about the future of Ontario’s poor, stating that "a research project that helps less than 4,000 people is not the answer and provides no hope to nearly two million Ontarians who are trapped in a cycle of poverty."

The Ford government also announced how much it cares about the poor with his recent announcement that he will halve the Wynne government's planned hike in social assistance from three to 1.5 per cent.

A full review of the province's social assistance -- and any more bad news for Ontario’s poor -- will be complete by November this year. 

Image: KMR Photography/Flickr

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