Too much, too soon: A brief history of Ontario employers crying wolf over the minimum wage

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 9.42.37 PMBy David Bush

Watching the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs hearings on the Liberal government’s Bill 148, Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act this week you can see the louder parts of the business community time and again push a narrative that if the minimum wage goes up to $15 by January 1, 2019, and if the ESA is strengthened, the economy will be in shambles.

They paint a picture of major job losses, a tidal wave of business closures, impending automation, young workers unable to get jobs, old workers left out in the cold, and an economy in ruins. It is a grim picture. The Chamber of Commerce, Restaurants Canada and other business organizations, along with the Tories, are asking for an economic impact study. They want the process to be slowed down, because this is, as the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and Patrick Brown have said, “too much, too soon”, a talking point that is actually recycled from the Canadian Restaurant Association’s effort in 1963 to halt the minimum wage increase and expansion to cover men.

They don’t seem to care that workers are living in poverty and need a raise and improved working conditions now, not later. They seem oblivious that this step towards better working conditions for all has been years in the making and it has the backing of economists.

At the hearings employers and their organizations have time and again said their bottom lines couldn’t take another hit. One employer, Tim Hortons franchisee Graham Oliver, (who owns 9 Tim Hortons franchises, costing $1.5 million each and employs 345 workers) told the committee, “it’s hard out there for a “penny profit business.” However, in 2010 Macleans published a court affidavit in which he sings quite a different tune: “if the public ever discovered how much store owners earn—“coupled with complaints that profit margins are not great enough”—it would “create an image that franchisees are wealthy, greedy people.”

The business lobby and the Tories are crying wolf. The truth is employers and the right-wing have vehemently opposed the creation and every increase to Ontario’s minimum wage. If they had their way the minimum wage would either be stuck at $1, with a possible 99 year phase in to $15 pending an economic impact syudy, or not exist at all. In their bid to squash the minimum wage, they become prophets of doom and gloom. Their predictions have always turned out to be wrong, but that has never stopped them from recycling their campaign of false fear.

Here is just a short history of employer organizations and the rightwing crying wolf about the minimum wage in Ontario:

From 1922:

“The Minimum Wage Board, at a public hearing last night granted to employers and employees of the textile industry in Ontario, heard the protest against, its scale of a Tavistock manufacturer, who claimed that the girls in his factory could not be induced to work harder for better wages as they were content $6 or $7 a week with a lighter task.”

-Globe and Mail (June 2, 1922)

“The Minimum Wage Board in no manner should dictate to merchants what salaries they should pay, as it has always been the policy of the Retail Merchants’ Association of Canada to advocate the principle that all clerks should be paid according to their ability to earn, not by any fixed seale by the government or by trade unions.”

-Globe and Mail (December 1, 1922)

From 1960:

“A few businesses employing women who earn tips have complained to the provincial labour department that an $8 a week increase in the minimum wage is too much.”

-Toronto Daily Star (July 5, 1960)

From 1962:

“President of the Canadian Restaurant Association, Victor Zuchter said restaurant prices would have to be raised if a minimum wage was introduced.”

-Toronto Daily Star (February 27, 1962)

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 10.20.29 PMFrom 1963:

“D.M. Waller, new president of the Canadian Restaurant Association, said the wage proposals were “too much, too soon,” and would result in higher restaurant prices.”

-Toronto Daily Star (March 27, 1963)

From 1976:

“The newly elected President of the Canadian Restaurant Association’s Ontario division said restaurant, motel, hotel and resort operators simply can’t afford minimum wage rates which rise again (to $2.65 an hour) on Monday.”

-Toronto Star (March 13, 1976)

“Roy Huddart, executive director, Ontario division, of the Canadian Restaurant Association, responds that the industry in Ontario is working on a slim 5 per cent profit (on sales only) and is competing with other countries for tourist dollars.

“It’s a labour-intensive industry,” Huddart says “and wages are a major concern. We’re on the road to pricing ourselves out of the tourist business.”

-Toronto Star (March 17, 1976)

From 1979:

“Conservative MPPs killed a private members’ bill yesterday that would have given Ontario’s 75,000 domestic workers the protection of the $3-an-hour provincial minimum wage. It would mean that many households would no longer be able to afford to hire people to help with the cleaning, the gardening and looking after the elderly and infirm, R. H. Ramsay (PC, Sault Ste Marie) argued.”

-Globe and Mail (October 12, 1979)

From 1980:

“The Chamber of Commerce head Sam Hughes says minimum wage discourages employers from offering work to the low-skilled.”

-Toronto Star (August 19, 1980)

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 8.09.07 PMFrom 1982:

“The Ontario Chamber of Commerce urged the Ontario government yesterday to “return to the fundamental principles of the free-enterprise economy.”

The Ontario government should abolish the minimum wage, drop its job-creation programs, lift rent control and cut taxes to cure province’s ills say representatives of the chamber…The incentives to be poor and weak and taken care of are overtaking the motivation to be strong and grow.”

-Globe and Mail (December 9, 1982)

From 1987:

“The latest increase in Ontario’s minimum wage could mean fewer jobs for teenagers, says an official of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Ontario’s minimum wage rises by 20 cents an hour to $4.55 for general workers on Thursday. The minimum wage for students under 18 rises to $3.70 an hour from $3.50, and the rate for liquor servers rises to $4.05 from $3.85.”

– Toronto Star (September 29, 1987)

From 1989:

“Federation spokesman Dale Botting described minimum wages as “a clumsy instrument” for handling poverty and said shelter allowances or tax rebates would be more appropriate. Half of minimum-wage earners are part-time workers, he said. He also suggests that in Toronto “any further jolt in labor-market costs will further magnify inflation.”

Inflation in Toronto is now running at 6.5 per cent annually, compared with 4.6 per cent Canada-wide. He complained that Ontario’s plan to change minimum wages Oct. 1 complicates life for the tourism industry, whose season runs until after Thanksgiving.”

-The Globe and Mail (May 23, 1989)

From 1992:

“Pat Palmer, president of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said the increase amounts to almost a 6-per-cent hike in costs for employers at a time when they’re already squeezed by the recession. “I really fear for small businesses that are hanging in right now by the skin of their teeth,” Mr. Palmer said. “It will result in job losses because they can’t afford to pass higher costs on to their customers.”

-The Globe and Mail (August 1, 1992)

From 1993:

“Catherine Swift, senior economist for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the NDP is setting “dubious policy” at a time of low inflation and high unemployment.

“An increase in the wage rate is the last thing you need.” Swift warned initiatives from Ontario’s NDP including pay equity for women, employment equity for minorities, an employer health tax and the minimum wage increase are “penalizing employers for having employees.” But she said huge job cuts by the federation’s 40,000 members in Ontario are unlikely since most have become so lean in the recession.”

-Toronto Star (July 31, 1993)

From 2005:

“Steve Pellarin, general manager of the non-profit Small Business Centre in London, Ont., says there’s never enough time for small business owners to prepare for increasing expenses.

The centre helps hundreds of small business get started each year and counsels thousands of others. Pellarin says the impact of the increase will be hard for firms just struggling to get by. It’s just one more hit that’s going to make it extremely difficult for them to make the business venture worth their while,” says Pellarin.”

-Hamilton Spectator (January 3, 2005)

From 2006:

“The Ontario economy couldn’t handle a jump to $10 an hour, said Conservative Leader John Tory. “When you do look at adjusting the minimum wage, it should be based on some sort of careful consideration as opposed to just picking a number. You’re dealing here with the strength and vitality of the economy and I think you have to be very careful.”

– Kitchener-Waterloo Record (October 18, 2006)

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 9.35.15 PMFrom 2010:

“I have received an overwhelming number of calls and emails from restaurant operators outraged by this unfair minimum wage increase, asking how the government could ignore their suffering businesses, said Stephanie Jones of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association.”

The group estimated the 8 per cent boost in minimum pay will cost food-service operators an extra $255 million in wage costs annually. Jones said restaurant owners could be forced to cut hours and jobs as a result. The increase is “entirely counterproductive,” she said.”

Toronto Star (April 1, 2010)

From 2014:

“The biggest impact we’ve heard is there will be a reduction in hours for part-time staff and hiring of older, experienced workers over first-time job applicants when vacancies arise,” said Joyce Reynolds of Restaurants Canada. “We’ve also heard there will be less hiring of students this summer.”

Since Ontario is already trailing other Canadian provinces in food service sales, there is “considerable anxiety” among restaurant owners over a minimum-wage increase, Reynolds said.

“If sales are flat and labour costs go up considerably — and labour is such a huge part of the operating costs of a restaurant — they have to find a way to manage those costs,” she said.”

Toronto Star (May 31, 2014)

From 2017:

“Inevitably, increasing the mandatory minimum wage will, in our opinion, result in job losses in the small business sector, exactly the opposite of the intent of this government policy.”

Toronto Star (June 15, 2017)

“The government’s proposed minimum wage hike is too much too fast and could lead to job losses, warns a coalition of Ontario business associations as province-wide hearings on employment changes kicked off Monday in Thunder Bay.

“Notwithstanding the intent of the legislation, the pace of the changes is very difficult to absorb,” said Karl Baldauf, vice-president of policy and government relations at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, who is also the spokesperson for the Keep Ontario Working Coalition.”

Toronto Star (July 10, 2017)

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One thought on “Too much, too soon: A brief history of Ontario employers crying wolf over the minimum wage

  1. Hi David, true that many businesses have this view. But it’s not all… Many choose to pay a living wage and run their businesses with a different set of values and principles. Bcorps and Livingwage employers are growing daily and believe they (we) will build the momentum to shift the tide, in time.
    Helmi Ansari
    CEO
    GROSCHE International
    / http://www.grosche.ca

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