QUEEN’S PARK, TORONTO, Ontario – Queen’s Park returned to work with the government’s Bill 148 at the top of the legislative agenda and the Sudbury and gas plant trials taking centre stage during Question Period.
During the summer, the finance committee traveled across the province collecting feedback on the government’s plans to change labour laws in Ontario and implement a $15 minimum wage within an 18 month period. Many businesses and Chambers of Commerce came forward, highlighting that such rapid increases in labour costs would force many businesses to lay off personnel, raise prices, or close down.
All parties support a better minimum wage for workers, and many businesses join in that support. Their demands and ours are that the government proceed cautiously, and only after a full economic impact study. When local business owners wrote to the Premier regarding the real, quantifiable impact of Bill 148 on them and their workers, they received responses full of beliefs, but lacking data, knowledge, and substance. The government of the largest Province in Canada is stubbornly refusing to inform itself on the consequences of the sweeping reforms it intends to drop on all of Ontario workplaces.
On Tuesday, the need for a deeper study of this legislation became even more obvious, as the Financial Accountability Officer highlighted at least 50,000 jobs being at risk from the reform, especially among young workers. This is simply unacceptable. To add to this, the government’s re-training and employment support initiatives to date have proven to be ineffective. According to the Auditor-General, only a third of Ontarians who had completed Employment Ontario programs were employed full-time by the end of their training, and only a fraction of them were employed in the field they had been trained in.
Asked about the potential job losses, the Minister of Labour simply suggested businesses should raise prices instead. This kind of approach is, at best, simplistic. Higher prices would nullify the higher income of the lowest-paid workers and moreover damage our export industries’ competitive advantage, already severely eroded by skyrocketing energy costs. By supposedly supporting the lowest-paid workers, the government may, in reality, harm their prospects and damage those of skilled export industry workers as well. We need a full, independent and detailed study, not just unsubstantiated beliefs. Ontario was once the economic engine of Canada, but under the government’s decimation of our manufacturing sector, we have lost that title.
The government is currently at the centre of two ongoing court trials. The first trial relates to the alleged deletion of documents surrounding the cancellation of two gas plants that cost Ontario ratepayers $1.1 billion. The second trial surrounds the Sudbury by-election. Premier Wynne herself testified in the Sudbury bribery trial earlier this week. There is no underestimating the importance of the facts that will come to light – Ontarians should follow these trials very closely.
Next week I will attend the International Plowing Match in Walton. The agriculture and agri-food sector is the largest employer in Ontario. Every year we see this sector growing, innovating and evolving to give us the best food available while it faces the challenges of a globalized agricultural marketplace. I look forward to witnessing how Ontario farmers and manufacturers have been driving progress in the industry.