Comments for the Premier on Bill 148

On Friday, July 28, 2017, the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce was invited to speak in front of Premier Kathleen Wynne on Bill 148. Here are my comments as presented:

I want to thank Unifor for inviting the chamber to participate today and the Premier for listening to our concerns.

Together our region, our province face unprecedented uncertainty with a soaring cost structure, aggressive U.S. states and Mexico, that have lower costs and lower regulation.

Our small business sector has taken the brunt of all the costs and regulations over the past few years and now they have Bill 148 on top of everything else. They need relief.

Many of them operate on small margins, long hours and little sleep. They can’t keep absorbing all these costs – like a 33% increase in labour costs – and pages of regulations without either laying people off, investing in automation or being forced to shut their doors.

Many of our larger employers have advised us that expansion or retention decisions are on hold pending NAFTA and the grave concern about the Ontario government’s seemingly indifferent approach to attract and maintain jobs.

Recently, one well known employer is this region didn’t even consider bringing 500-700 well paying middle class to Windsor-Essex at 50-70k year – because of the high cost structure in Ontario. That is a massive blow to our region.

Premier, the government of Ontario talks about compassion – where is the compassion for the hundreds of families who won’t get these well paying coveted 50-70k middle class jobs? Those jobs are now headed to the southern United States. They aren’t coming back.

I have another large employer with hundreds of jobs paying well above minimum wage that is actively debating whether to stay or go to U.S. or Mexico. What is my argument to stay?

There is more damage to come – as all employers with mobility are re-evaluating their Ontario presence. We also have an economic impact study coming in the next month.

I would pose the question that went unanswered to the Standing Committee on Bill 148 last week:

What is Ontario’s advantage? Why would anyone business locate, expand or stay here, when they can set up shop essentially across the street at a far lower cost, lower regulation and avoid border risk?

Windsor-Essex and Ontario have already lost hundreds of millions of dollars in agriculture investment to Ohio and tens of billions of dollars of auto investment to the Southern United States and Mexico and is on a continuation path. We don’t have to be the cheapest, but we have to be competitive.

Ontario’s collective response to all of this is to double down on raising costs:

1. Electricity costs up 400% over the past 12 years
2. Cap and Trade costing billions of dollars and punishing business and our middle class for using Ontario’s clean grid
3. Additional payroll, health care and pension costs.

And now the government of Ontario introduces Bill 148 which raises the minimum wage by nearly 33% in 16 months, with collateral impacts on the entire wage structure as well, in addition to dozens of pages of regulatory costs behind it ranging from more emergency leave days, to more vacation and shift notification requirements among many others.

I would remind everyone that the Ontario government came to an agreement with all of us in 2013/2014 to raise the minimum wage incrementally and predictably.

For whatever reason, that agreement was tossed aside like it never existed.

Notwithstanding all of that… The WERCC is in the ideas and solutions business, so here are some suggestions to change Bill 148:

• Do a 5 year phase in for min wage to help small business and agriculture
• Meaningful cost offsets to even the playing field. We want investment and jobs in Windsor-Essex, not in the USA or Mexico
• Tighten the rules on emergency leave days.
• For our agriculture sector, the certainty of exactly when a crop has be to harvested needs to be made very quickly and can’t wait for 48 hour notice. We would request that this requirement be waived for agriculture.
• Also for the agriculture sector – if you include employer cost for providing free housing and transportation – many of the Temporary Foreign Workers already make more than $15 an hour. Should they be exempt?

I would be happy to take any questions.
Thank you.