Liberals acted like bullies themselves by rushing minimum wage increase

Premier Kathleen Wynne charged some business owners in Ontario have been acting like bullies after they instituted measures that clawed back employee perks and benefits in the wake of her mammoth minimum wage hike. Given the discussion has been largely focused on coffee producers, however, one wonders if this is an apt time to ponder if the pot is indeed calling the kettle black.

Imagine any household was told suddenly it’d have to absorb a 31-per-cent cost increase to one of its major staple expenses in just over a year and it’s hard not to see the impact for most people. Add that on top of steady increases in other areas, like electricity, and it’s enough to worry most. Well, just like individual households, businesses also have budgets and they also have a set ability to pay. They built business models on that and hired staff within their means.

Wynne knew that four years ago when Ontario upped its minimum wage to $11 and tied growth to inflation. At some point, she must have decided that wasn’t good enough. She decided regardless of what the business community was saying about it being “too much, too soon” or warning it would have to make difficult choices, her government was going to raise minimum wage drastically in an election year.

Evidently, it didn’t matter that some companies had more ability to pay or that some didn’t share their wealth in the way she envisioned. It also didn’t matter that those businesses who were paying above minimum because they’d want to continue to treat their employees better, regardless of their ability. While many smaller or independent business owners were grappling with those challenges, the government seemed to have found an easy way to rally support leading up to an election. They also found a nice way to pad coffers with higher payroll, income, and likely, sales taxes. Nice platitudes even though $15 still doesn’t offer a lot of buying power — especially with hints of inflation, young and vulnerable working are still in a precarious position of losing hours, and the poorest of the poor, seniors and the disabled aren’t getting any boost.

If the Liberals were truly interested in balancing inequalities, they could have looked more extensively at the labour code or at corporate taxation levels, especially for companies not located in Ontario and found a way to close off loopholes they now accuse others of exploiting. That, too, could have driven jobs out of the province however.

The more effective step, however, would have been to work with the business community on reforms that would be sustainable and long-lasting. Maybe with that sort of spirit of co-operation, rather than imposition, the Liberals might have had enough buy-in that they wouldn’t have to look at desperate measures to get re-elected. One only wonders how different the province’s energy file would be without the autocratic Green Energy Act virtually ignoring public input — ironically, to the benefit of big businesses.

Wynne is quite right that if business owners want to pick a fight, it should be with her and not employees (who have been treated as innocent pawns). It’s a shame she didn’t let them pick that fight at election time first before moving full bore ahead on her own with such a risky economic experiment at the end of her current term at Queen’s Park.