Minimum wage uncertainty is ‘killing me’ says Brockville councillor

(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

BROCKVILLE – The province has announced a big boost to the minimum wage in the next two years, something that makes one Brockville councillor nervous about the unknown.

The Ontario government announced Tuesday it will hike the minimum wage to $14 an hour on Jan. 1, 2018 and to $15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2019.

The current minimum wage is $11.40.

Councillor Leigh Bursey – an anti-poverty advocate – says the $15 is “not even a living wage,” based on the cost of living index. “You look at very much a service-based economy then there’s no doubt there’s a lot of people who are looking at this hoping it’s going to make a tremendous difference.”

Bursey points to “empirical analysis” and former U.S. President Bill Clinton raising the minimum wage twice during his tenure which boosted the economy. “More people were in a position with more expendable income to support the economy and there was more ambition to succeed.”

But the councillor believes “it’s a half-hearted success for me.”

“As pleasing as it sounds to the ears, there’s definitely a grumbling in my stomach. This community is looking at losing 600 jobs (closure of Procter and Gamble) over the next two-and-a-half years. I’m nervous. While the economic study is there…there are definitely people that will disagree.”

“Would I be more exited about this if I thought that my economy locally was stronger? You bet I would because it makes sense to me. Am I concerned because I know that my economy isn’t as strong as I wish that it was and no doubt is about to be dramatically impacted even further? Absolutely.”

Bursey believes, based on the views of critics, this would affect the Mom and Pop shops the most. “My fear is not the Walmarts of the world.” Bursey pointed to examples of Costco and Starbucks where creative incentives encourage people to work.

But “if you’ve been working in a workshop for the last five years and you just got bumped up to $18 an hour after killing yourself and taking every holiday and then the person who started beneath you starts at $15 an hour next year, how does that balance out?” Bursey rhetorically asked.

Despite the cynicism of the Liberal government, Bursey believes there’s an intention of boost the economy and deal with poverty. “That is beautiful in theory but is it going to translate into actual substance? Or are we creating new needs because now we’re going to have inflation (and) a challenged labour force? I can’t answer, I don’t know.”

“The uncertainty is killing me. I think it’s something that I want to celebrate. I think it’s criminal that you have people working for employment agencies and whatever else who are working 40 hours a week and still can’t afford to feed their family.”

The councillor says once fear is at play it becomes a political issue and “soundbite politics instead of focusing on the real issues…and that’s something I’m definitely concerned about.”

There are other provisions in the legislation, including equal pay for part-time employees doing the same job as full-timers and employees paid for three hours if their shift if cancelled within 48 hours.