Tories, Grits trade barbs over $15 minimum wage

Tories, Grits trade barbs over $15 minimum wage

While an all-party committee tours the province studying a sweeping new labour bill, the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives are taking turns trying to school the other over the bill's impact and legislative process.

In back-to-back press releases this week, the Tories contend Liberal MPPs are clueless about the effect of a $15 minimum wage – embedded in Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces Better Jobs Act – while the Grits countered it’s Tory Leader Patrick Brown who is oblivious to the benefits.

The PCs on Wednesday called out Labour Minister Kevin Flynn for comments he made on a radio show that, in the party’s view, suggested raising the base wage to $15 an hour by 2019 was “still up for debate.”

“While the Wynne Liberals have been advertising a minimum wage hike as a sure thing, and fundraising off this issue, we are now seeing Liberal MPPs and cabinet ministers backpedalling after hearing constituent concerns,” the Tories charged.

The Tories also pointed to a Facebook video posted after the Finance and Economic Affairs Committee’s first public hearing in Thunder Bay Monday, in which Liberal MPP Vic Dhillon discusses what he heard from stakeholders.

Dhillon says he “had no idea about the ramifications” of certain parts of the bill underscored by a witness from the property restoration business, which the PCs took as an admission “their government hadn’t considered all of the impacts of their sweeping labour bill.”

“Could some Ontario Liberals be concerned this policy is being rammed through too fast, and too soon? Could their change in tone be evidence of doubt? Are they realizing they don’t understand the effects of this policy?” the PCs went on to say in a release. “Clearly the Wynne Liberals didn’t think this policy through. They are recklessly pushing forward with this policy as an election ploy, without considering the impacts.”

The release closes by echoing a plea from the business lobby for a cost-benefit analysis of a higher minimum wage.

But the Liberals say it’s the PCs who are clueless for “attacking” an MPP simply for doing his legislative duty. During the committee process, any MPP can introduce amendments, so it's possible the legislation could change during clause-by-clause consideration, but because the Liberals have a majority, their amendments are most likely to make it past the cutting room floor.

“This tour is not about hearing one side of the story, and Liberal members of the committee are committed to hearing and considering all perspectives,” a spokesman from the government house leader’s office said in an email to QP Briefing.

“This is a serious conversation about the future of employment in Ontario, and Liberal members have made it clear they intend to listen and learn from Ontarians and relay all the feedback heard at committee to the government before amendments are created.”

“We had thought all parties understood that this part of the committee process is an opportunity to learn from Ontarians,” spokesman Kyle Richardson wrote.

The Grits fired back by quoting Brown in a release of their own  on Wednesday. They took particular exception to his remark that the "overnight" minimum wage hike is too much too soon, and just a “silly” election season promise.

“Unlike [Brown], Minister Flynn and his Liberal colleagues want to hear from everyone – his suggestions otherwise are just a distraction and are disrespectful to members of all parties, including his own, and to the legislative process,” Michael Speers, spokesman for the Labour Minister said in an email.

“Brown is also against giving workers, businesses and experts the chance to weigh in on this legislation … Unlike the Conservatives, we recognize the need to address the concerns of those who worry about falling behind, even as they work so hard to get ahead,” Speers added.

Meanwhile, public hearings for Bill 148 are happening across the province over the next two weeks. On Wednesday, the finance and economic affairs committee stopped in Ottawa and is headed to Kingston, Windsor, Kitchener, Niagara Falls, Hamilton and Toronto. The deadline for written submissions is July 21.

While the $15 minimum wage has thus far been in the spotlight of the hearings, the legislation includes many provisions for updating employment laws, including expanded vacation and emergency leave, equal pay for equal work regardless of whether someone is employed part-time or full-time, and an easier path to a union.

To contact the reporter on this story:

Sabrina Nanji

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