NDP seeks balanced approach for minimum wage hike

Ontario’s NDP leader Andrea Horwath chastised Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne for her minimalist wage help for the average worker trying to make ends meet.

Horwath, who was touring the Hamilton area March 13 including Stoney Creek and the Mountain, said increasing the minimum wage needs to be accompanied with help for small businesses who will bear the brunt of the higher costs.

“What we are saying is we need to push things a little bit further, but recognizing we have to take a balanced approach and cushion the impact on small business,” she said.

The NDP plan would have the minimum wage rise to $11 an hour June 1, 2014, then boost it up to $11.50 on June 1, 2015, followed by another .50 cent increase June 1, 2016. The wage increase would be tied to inflation and give employers four months’ notice before the next hike.

On Monday, the party announced a job creation tax credit that would reimburse employers for 10 per cent of the salary paid to new hires during their first year of employment, up to a maximum of $5,000 per new hire.

“We are facing a jobs crisis. We need action. This is one simple achievable step we could take now to get people working: create a job, get a tax credit. Now let’s get moving,” Horwath said in a news release.

To help soften the blow the NDP would cut the small business tax rate from 4.5 per cent to 4 per cent June, 2014, followed by further reductions to 3.5 per cent in 2015 and 3 per cent in 2016.

“Our major employer in our economy is small business,” said Horwath, who was accompanied by Hamilton East-Stoney Creek NDP MPP Paul Miller. “(They) collectively employ more people than any other single industry. We need to recognize that and acknowledge it as we change the minimum wage. We can’t afford to lose jobs.”

Horwath had been expected to promote her party’s new policies for small businesses during her Hamilton visit March 13, but the announcement was postponed from March 13 to March 17.

“(People) should take (Wynne’s) announcements with a huge grain of salt because we have seen many, many instances where the Liberals say one thing and do another or they make promises they simply don’t live up to.”

Earlier this year Wynne announced a 75-cent-an-hour hike this year to the current $11 per hour minimum wage, and future wage increases, to be tied to the rate of inflation, will be made each April and take effect Oct. 1. It is the first wage increase since 2010.

Horwath said the NDP has been calling for a rise in the minimum wage since 2011, and the Liberals only now have managed to increase it past $11 per hour.

“The Liberal proposal will be for less that what we are suggesting,” she said.

Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak has warned the $11 per hour minimum wage was basically a seven per cent addition to business costs and further hikes would mean job losses.

Anti-poverty activists and unions have campaigned for at least a $14-an-hour minimum wage, they had been urging Horwath to clarify her position.

Horwath, who has received her share of criticism for taking a go-slow response to the minimum wage, said she “respected a great deal what the activists have done.

“Social justice groups, labour and other have really been pushing and it’s because of their work there has been that momentum to make a change,” said Horwath.

Horwath said she spoke to a florist on Concession Street and she pointed out she is the only person working. Because of the rising costs, she had to lay off her employees, said Horwath.

“You really have to take a really balanced approached when you look at the minimum wage issue,” said Horwath. “I think everybody would agree if folks are working full-time jobs they should pay their bills and have a roof over their heads. The bottom line is an overnight spike to $14 is just not something small businesses can sustain.”