Antonios Tsourounakis, one of the directors of the Hawkesbury and Region Chamber of Commerce, suggested Ontario's minimum wage hike be phased in over five years instead of two. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns).

UCPR ‘on board’ with implementing minimum wage hike over 5 years

Antonios Tsourounakis says business owners can’t “stop beating the drum” when it comes to Ontario’s proposed minimum wage increase.

The owner Déja Vu Restaurant and Bar, and one of the directors of the Hawkesbury and Region Chamber of Commerce (HRCC), made the statement at the United Counties of Prescott-Russell’s (UCPR) latest meeting.

Tsourounakis was asking for council’s support for a letter addressed to Kevin Flynn, the provincial labour minister, that pleaded with government to phase in the changes to minimum wage over five years instead of two.

That way, Tsourounakis said, small-business owners have more time to prepare.  

He brought up many arguments against the sudden wage increase: the domino effect of higher compensation for more experienced employees, production cost increases and price hikes to make ends meet.

He also highlighted the effects of being close to the Québec border.

“With their lower labour cost, they’ll be content to undercut me and draw people across the border where things will be cheaper,” he said. “What makes sense in the heart of Toronto, where people can’t simply cross the border, doesn’t make sense in our neck of the woods.”

Karine Lauzon is the director of the Clarence-Rockland Chamber of Commerce, and was there in support of the HRCC. She, too, reiterated the need to stagger the changes over a longer period of time.

“Business owners agree there needs to be an increase, but there needs to be more time to plan for that increase,” she said.

Council’s take

Before the presentation even began, Warden Gary Barton told Tsourounakis council was “on board.” 

At the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in mid-August, local Chamber of Commerces and UCPR had delegations to meet with provincial ministers to voice their concerns about the minimum wage hike. 

Pierre Leroux, mayor of Russell Township, said his small business may need to shut down due to the proposed wage hike. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns).

“The message I got was, ‘We’re going ahead, we’re doing it, forget any objection’,” said Barton referring to meeting with the ministers.

Clarence-Rockland Mayor Guy Desjardins chimed in to suggest council form a committee to go to Queen’s Park after the bill’s second reading.

“We got to do everything we can to object to this,” he said.

The City of Clarence-Rockland is looking at an extra $1.5 million in salary expenses when the changes kick in.

Council decided to support the letter presented by Tsourounakis, which proposed the wage hike as such: January 2018, $12; January 2019, $12.75; January 2020, $13.50; January 2021, $14.25; and January 2022, $15.  

The letter reads, “This way the government would still receive all the positive buzz announcing the road to $15, with less of the potential ‘crashes’ involved in implementing it too quickly.”