The Dangers of Bill 148

When I first reviewed the detailed legislation that comprises the Ontario Liberal government’s Bill 148, which came into force in January 2018, my immediate reaction was that it read exactly like a union collective bargaining agreement.  Normally, employees and employers would be able to negotiate the terms of any collective bargaining agreement; then employees would vote on the result of the negotiations.  But no one other than politicians got to vote on Bill 148.  Instead, the Kathleen Wynne government quickly forced it through the provincial legislature, despite the feedback from many groups representing the interests of both businesses and employees that this Bill would have a major negative impact on workers and the Ontario economy.  The province’s current Liberal government has a long track record of capitulating to labour unions at the expense of the vast majority of Ontario taxpayers, and the passage into law of Bill 148 was just the most recent example of this unbalanced approach to government policy.

The most high profile element of Bill 148 was the massive hike in minimum wage by over 32% in an 18 month period.  It is interesting to note that a mere three years ago, Kathleen Wynne committed to increasing the minimum wage annually by the rate of inflation, currently running around 1.5 to 2 per cent annually, so that businesses would be able to plan their operations accordingly.  Wynne’s consistently low ratings in election polls seem to have been the catalyst for her decision to abandon this earlier commitment and impose a very punitive cost increase on Ontario’s businesses with little if any warning.

Early indications would suggest that the minimum wage hike and other elements of this legislation have very quickly had a devastating impact on the job market in Ontario.  Labour market data for the first two months of 2018 has been sharply negative, with almost 60,000 part-time job losses in the province in January alone.   And although the unprecedented steep hike in minimum wage has received most of the attention, there is much more in this piece of legislation that is very worrisome. In fact, the parts of Bill 148 unrelated to minimum wage could well prove to be even more damaging to the Ontario economy than the minimum wage provisions.  These elements will be further discussed in future columns.

Although no one except the politicians was able to vote on the passage of the very damaging Bill 148 in the Ontario legislature, there is thankfully an election coming on June 7 of this year in which all Ontarians will have the opportunity to vote on whether or not they approve of its contents, as well as the rest of the Liberal government track record.  It will be interesting indeed to see if Ontarians support a continuation of Liberal policies such as big government spending, growing deficits and debt, and economically damaging laws such as bill 148.  The stakes are certainly high for Canada’s largest province.

Catherine Susan Swift is the former Chair of the Board of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. She is currently the spokesperson for Working Canadians

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