TIMBIT-TERNESS – It has been suggested, here and elsewhere, that the Ontario Liberals knew their increase to the province’s minimum wage would be a polarizing issue, and that is actually one of the reasons they’ve hyped it so much. (Aside from their belief in its inherent rightness, of course.) If creating a wedge was in fact part of their strategy, so far it has been spectacularly successful. Hard to imagine the current polemic sustaining right through until June’s election, but at the moment the minimum wage battle is dominating provincial politics. Lighting the fuse was a decision by Tim Hortons franchisees – who happen to be offspring of the family that founded the company, which made billions when they sold it – to claw back benefits to employees as a way to offset the increased payroll costs. Premier Kathleen Wynne decried the move as “bullying” and so began an escalating war of words. Among the developments in recent days:
Labour Minister Kevin Flynn doubled down on Wynne’s umbrage, vowing to deploy up to 175 new employment standards inspectors to ensure enforcement of the new labour laws. “Unfortunately, it appears that some employers are abandoning the spirit of this legislation, and some may even be doing more than that,” Flynn admonished. “The stories we’ve all heard over the past week have not only been disappointing but, quite frankly, they’ve made the Premier, myself and others in this province angry.” He literally repeated Wynne’s message, adding, “This bullying behaviour will not be tolerated.”
Labour activists staged protests at several Tim Hortons locations. Such scenes must have warmed the hearts of Liberal supporters, but NDP Leader Andrea Horwath wasn’t about to cede the issue. She personally attended the protest at the Timmies in Cobourg – epicentre of the controversy – and accused the Liberals of not going far enough in their labour reforms. “It’s clearer than ever that along with minimum wage increases, Queen’s Park also needs to close loopholes, and deliver better rights and protections for workers,” Horwath said in a news release.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business accused the Liberals of Machiavellian tactics, describing the minimum wage hike as “carefully thought out and politically motivated.” Julie Kwiecinski, CFIB’s director of provincial affairs for Ontario, fumed, “The government, in anticipation of the upcoming election, is trying to set up a battle pitting employer against employee.”
An organization called the Great White North Franchisee Association jumped to the defence of the Tim Hortons founding family members, declaring, “We are offended that [Premier Wynne] has mischaracterized Jeri Horton-Joyce and Ron Joyce Jr. in this way,” and suggesting the Joyces are hardly wealthy individuals despite their family’s fortune.
Tim Hortons’ head office (the chain is now owned by the holding company Restaurant Brands International) went into brand damage control mode, issuing a statement lamenting its relationship with customers and employees being “jeopardized by the … actions of a reckless few.” The company admitted that its franchisees have found managing the minimum wage increase to be “challenging” but characterized the clawbacks as being the work of a “rogue group” and that “Tim Hortons [employees] should never be used to further an agenda or be treated as just an ‘expense.’ This is completely unacceptable.”
PC MPP John Yakabuski stayed away from the substance of the debate – leery, no doubt, about stepping into the trap the Liberals had laid – but impugned the underlying strategy. “[The Liberals] want to make business the bogeyman,” Yakabuski scoffed. “This is a political vehicle for June of 2018 and [they’re saying], ‘We’re going to make somebody the enemy and we’re going to portray ourselves as the dragon slayer.’” PC Leader Patrick Brown, just returned from India, has stayed out of the fray so far, save for a couple of re-tweets of pro-business posts.
WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA? – Cynics don’t think much of the Liberals’ crowdsourcing approach to provincial budgets, but evidently it’s been successful enough that the LIBs are doing it again. This week they launched the 2018 version of public voting on policy ideas, as part of their “Budget Talks” initiative. More than 700 ideas were submitted in five focus areas – child care, seniors, small business, students and healthy living, and up to $5 million is up for grabs to implement the most popular proposals. The deadline for voting is January 26, with the winners to be announced, as usual, during the spring Budget.
TRILLIUM BALLOON – Under the slogan, “Something Different. Something Better,” the Ontario Trillium Party is making some progress in recruiting candidates for June’s election. It now lists 22, including party leader and founder Bob Vaciuk, former PC and now independent MPP Jack MacLaren and Sarnia Councillor Andy Bruziewic, who signed on this week as the Trillium candidate in Sarnia-Lambton (currently held by PC Bob Bailey). Bruziewic quickly adopted the party’s rhetoric, telling local media, “I think what we have right now with the big three [parties], it’s sort of a merry-go-round. Patrick Brown is called by many ‘Liberal light.’ The NDP is called ‘Liberals in a hurry.’” Interestingly, he has run previously provincially as an independent candidate and federally for the NDP.
ALL WELLAND GOOD – In much of Ontario, running for the New Democrats is an iffy proposition, but Welland is a long-time NDP stronghold, so it’s no surprise that prospective candidates wasted little time pushing for what is now an open seat. Not long after current MPP Cindy Forster announced that she won’t seek re-election, at least three would-be successors had thrown their hats into the ring, and the local NDP riding association admits it has “received inquiries from a few others.” Welland Councillor Pat Chiocchio, Niagara Folk Arts and Multicultural Centre CEO Jeff Burch and local resident Melissa McGlashan had all registered their nomination papers the day after Forster’s announcement. Former Welland-area MP Malcolm Allen was considering taking a run at the nomination, but ultimately decided he was enjoying his life outside of politics and will stay on the sidelines.
FOR THE RECORD
“Why not just make the minimum wage $1,000,000. Then everyone could be rich. All problems solved. Hmmmmmmmmmm…..”
Ben Harper, son of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, tweeting his views on the minimum wage hike – a sign of just how much the debate is escalating.
“It should be noted that the ONDP have better policy positions on workers’ rights and labour law reform, but Wynne and the Liberals have taken over the ground the ONDP ceded. They have message discipline on the issue, and they frame it along class lines by talking about bully bosses, and they champion the low-wage workers. They are the Liberals, so we know this is opportunistic, but who gave them this opportunity? The ONDP leadership only has to look in the mirror.”
David Bush, a columnist with the left-leaning rabble.ca, taking the Ontario NDP to task for allowing the Liberals to move into traditional NDP territory.
“None of them.”
Ipsos vice-president Sean Simpson, speaking to the Oakville Chamber of Commerce, on which of the Ontario party leaders research shows most voters would like to have a beer or coffee with.
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