THUNDER BAY – The Liberal candidate for Thunder Bay-Superior North says his party is the one that delivers for minimum wage workers.
Michael Gravelle says raising the Ontario minimum wage to $11 per hour, which took effect across the province on Sunday, is the latest example of the party’s commitment to ensuring workers receive a competitive rate.
“We are the government that brought it up from $6.85 an hour up now to $11 an hour,” Gravelle said. “I think that reflects the reality for people that working minimum wage, they need to see an increase.”
The increase places Ontario as the province with the highest minimum wage in Canada, equal only to Nunavut.
Thunder Bay-Atikokan Progressive Conservative candidate Harold Wilson is concerned about the spin-off effects of the increase.
With employers spending more on the rate of pay for staff, many might look at slashing hours or increasing costs to mitigate the financial hit.
If the price of goods and services go up as a result then the workers are right back where they started.
“For small businesses it hits them pretty hard,” Wilson said of wage increases.
“They’re already doing calculations of how much they’re going to have to add to restaurant meals or some of the services they have because wages are a pretty big part of their operations. It doesn’t take much to add to that bottom line.”
It can only get more problematic if employers respond by reducing hours as many workers will have to start looking for multiple jobs to supplement their income.
That might mean lack of benefits and ultimately spending less time with families as they balance so many different commitments.
Wilson instead says government needs to be focused on creating more valuable jobs that are sustainable to reduce the number of people who rely on minimum wage work.
For more than a year advocates across the province have been pushing to hike the rate up to $14 per hour, saying that anything less puts workers below the poverty line.
Thunder Bay-Superior North NDP candidate Andrew Foulds says the Liberals have fallen behind the cost of living for minimum wage workers and the first increase in four years is only as a result of pressure from opposition groups.
While $11 per hour is a good start, there is still plenty of work that needs to be done.
“We often forget about the working poor and I talk to people across this riding I hear from people who are working two or three part-time jobs at minimum wage,” Foulds said.
“Some of these folks are working 40, 60, 80 hours to make ends meet. They are working hard and I think it is only fair and reasonable that their purchasing power stays the same so they can try to make ends meet.”
Foulds says his party has the most aggressive and comprehensive approach to benefit minimum wage workers.
The NDP platform outlines a two-year plan that would see the rate rise to $12 per hour that Foulds says will make up for where the Liberals have fallen behind.
They also plan to cut the small business tax rate to balance out the additional costs and allow them to continue to hire.
In addition, the NDP also has plans to enhance school nutrition programs and provide dental assistance to assist families in need.
The Liberals had introduced legislation to Queen’s Park that would have indexed the rate to future inflation as well as the cost of living. The dissolution of the legislature leaves that piece currently in limbo.
Nova Scotia and Yukon are currently the only two jurisdictions in Canada that have indexed their minimum wage.
Gravelle says the Liberals will carry on where they left off with getting the minimum wage rate indexed if they return to power.
He adds it was a disappointment the component became a temporary political casualty of the PCs and NDP deciding to trigger an election.
“The job for us was to find the right balance and recognizing what a priority it was to increase the minimum wage and we’re pleased about that and I’m certainly hopeful that if we are in a position to be back in government after June 12 we will be moving forward on the legislation to have future increases tied to the inflation rate of the province,” Gravelle said.
Foulds agrees that the minimum wage needs to be tied to an index so that way the rate can stay in step with economic conditions.
Wilson is in favour of exploring ways to make future increases more predictable for business owners and not subject to political influences of the day.
In addition to the main adult rate, the student minimum wage is being increased to $10.30 per hour, and the minimum wage for liquor servers will see a jump to $9.55 per hour.