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Posts Tagged ‘ontario politics’

“On November 20, the libertarian Montreal Economic Institute think tank released a short report claiming that Ontario’s $14 minimum wage is costing thousands of young workers their jobs and raising prices for everyone else. These overblown claims, based on skewed and cherry-picked data, came out—purely coincidentally to be sure—the day before Doug Ford’s Conservatives originally planned to pass Bill 47, the law that will cancel the planned increase in Ontario’s minimum wage to $15 on January 1, 2019 and reverse many other gains for Ontario workers such as two paid sick days. Due to protestors in the public gallery, the bill was finally passed on November 21.

The MEI study makes three main points, (1) that Ontario’s $14 minimum wage has caused 56,000 youth jobs to be lost so far, (2) that it has raised prices at restaurants by 5.6% and (3) that it is ineffective at fighting poverty. (Although it is irresponsible to call what MEI released a study; it is essentially a 2-page brief with an appendix mostly comprised of a very selective bibliography.)

Each claim is based either on cherry-picked data, a misreading of the research or both. Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Debunking the job loss claim

First, the MEI claims that employment for 15- to 24-year olds in Ontario fell by 56,000 since the introduction of the $14 minimum wage. Looking at the data, however, it’s plain that there has been a big increase in youth employment volatility – but it’s much less clear what the ultimate impact on youth employment itself has been. The MEI essentially cherry-picked a difference between the highest (November 2017) and one of the lowest (October 2018) volatile monthly points to get the largest possible estimate of jobs lost.

To see how volatile the data is, let’s pick a couple other month pairs. Between November 2017 and March 2018, the change in 15- to 24-year old employment is zero. That’s between the date Bill 148 was announced and after one quarter of it being in effect! Between July 2017 and July 2018 there was a gain of 22,400 jobs for 15- to 24-year olds. In fact, looking at these year-over-year changes in employment, the more stable average year-over-year change in youth employment in the ten months between January and October 2018 has in fact been a 16,900 job gain.[1]

Reality check: Ontario’s improving job numbers

Meanwhile, the employment rate for 15- to 64-year olds, which is much less volatile and comprises a much larger number of workers, is nearly identical today to November 2017, unchanged since Bill 148 was enacted. This represents a year-over-year gain of 82,800 jobs.

Looking more broadly at the first three quarters or nine months of 2018 so far, employment in Ontario has been up 1.7% on average year-over-year, higher than the rest of the country at 1.4% on average. In six of the nine months so far in 2018, Ontario’s unemployment rate was over 0.5% lower than in had been a year previous.

Not only has Ontario’s jobs performance kept up with or outpaced Canada-wide trends, it has been disproportionately strong in low-wage sectors—those where you would most expect to see negative effects from a higher minimum wage. September’s year-over-year employment growth in each of the three service sectors where low wage work is most common beat Canada-wide figures by around 0.5%. At the same time, earnings for low-wage workers have seen a big boost. Total wages in accommodation and food services, the most low-wage-heavy sector of the economy, were 14% higher in September than they were one year earlier, increasing at double the Canada-wide rate. Little sign of existing or impending labour market doom.

The overblown price spike claim

Second, the MEI cherrypicks price data to stoke fear about out-of-control price increases. While Ontario’s restaurant prices did jump somewhat right after the minimum wage increase, overall inflation is in line with the rest of Canada. In fact, Ontario’s CPI is 2.2% higher than it was a year ago, exactly the same as Canadian CPI. In a meaningful, general sense, prices in Ontario are growing at the Canadian average. This is in line with most research, which finds very limited price effects from minimum wage increases.

The MEI is right, however, that restaurant prices did experience a bump. Between December 2017 and March 2018, they grew by 4.8% in Ontario; however, this has to be compared to overall price growth which was 2.1% over the same period—leaving a difference of 2.7%. Since then, however, restaurant prices have roughly kept pace with overall price growth and growth in restaurant prices across Canada (which Ontario has also tracked closely, with a very similar 2.6% shift upwards over the national average in early 2018). This relatively small, one-time bump in restaurant prices is not unexpected (and it is 27 cents on a $10 meal). In fact, it shows firms in industries with the very highest concentrations of minimum wage work finding avenues other than cutting jobs to absorb cost increases.

Yes, MEI, higher minimum wages do combat poverty

Finally, the MEI is wrong to claim that most studies show no connection between higher minimum wages and lower poverty rates. The latest research states the exact opposite, finding a clear link between higher minimum wages and lower poverty. A very recent “meta-analysis”, or study of studies, took 12 of the most credible new research papers on the topic, even including those from well-known academic opponents of raising the minimum wage and found that for every 10% increase in the minimum wage, the number of non-seniors living in poverty decreased by 2% to 5%. It also found significant increases in household incomes for the bottom half of households, largest among those in the bottom quarter. (For a good, non-technical explanation, see this piece in the Washington Post.)

Past research, today’s jobs numbers, even initial reports from the big banks confirm that a higher minimum wage does not spell doom, either for Ontario’s economy or for low-wage workers. In fact, it appears to have been the boost from the bottom up that was needed. While there is certainly space to study the effects of increasing Ontario’s minimum wage to $14 (and the still, as of writing, planned increase to $15 on January 1, 2019) in more detail, the MEI is only muddying the waters with its simplistic, skewed analysis.”

– Michal Rozworski, “Is this the best they can do? The weak case against $14 in Ontario.” Rankandfile.ca, November 22, 2018.

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“Five years after Ontario vowed to curtail its use of solitary confinement, average inmate stays in segregation cells have grown longer, with one prisoner in Ottawa remaining in isolation for at least 835 days, according to newly released provincial data.

The statistical snapshot shows that solitary confinement, the prison practice of isolating inmates for 22 or more hours a day without meaningful human contact, remains a central component of provincial jail operations. It also raises questions about the commitment of the new government of Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford to pending legislation that would severely limit its use.

The most glaring figure comes from the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, where government spreadsheets indicate a Muslim man with mental-health issues, between the ages of 35 and 39, was housed in solitary for at least 835 days. Little more is known about him. United Nations guidelines recommend 15 days as a limit for segregation placements to prevent lasting mental and physical harm. Earlier this year, the previous Liberal government passed legislation that would enshrine those 15-day caps, but it has yet to be proclaimed by the Lieutenant-Governor.” 

– Patrick White, “Length of solitary stays increasing in Ontario prisons, including 835 days for one inmate.The Globe and Mail, November 5, 2018.

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“Two decades ago, Premier Mike Harris deliberately undermined public trust in the welfare system, vilifying those in need in order to justify deep cuts and an oppressive program redesign. Ignoring the systemic causes of poverty, he and his ministers preached a worldview that saw vulnerable Ontarians as responsible for their own impoverishment. The Harris government often implied that the poor were irresponsible and untrustworthy with public funds, such as when Harris cut a $37 monthly nutrition allowance for pregnant women on social assistance so “the dollars don’t go to beer.”

Not satisfied with simply nurturing existing stigmas of poverty, Harris would do his utmost to add the stigma of criminality, painting the poor as greedy and dishonest. Each year, the Harris government released an annual Welfare Fraud Control Report showing that, for example, out of 311,000 welfare cases between 1998 and 1999, 17,000 cases saw benefits reduced or terminated because of investigations that “catch welfare cheats and deter others from thinking about cheating.”

The Harris government often implied that the poor were irresponsible and untrustworthy with public funds.

This created the impression that fraud was detected in 5.5 per cent of welfare cases, when it was only overpayments that were detected. Overpayments may be due to fraud, but are far more often caused by confusion on the part of the recipient or caseworker error. The same report admits that there were only 747 convictions for social assistance fraud during this period — a mere 0.2 per cent of all cases. To inflate the statistics, the government positioned any discovery of an overpayment as a case of fraud.

When one first hears about social assistance overpayments, it is not unusual to surmise that nefarious actions are the cause. What is not widely understood, however, is that our social assistance system, by its very design, routinely pays out incorrect amounts on an astonishing scale. From my own experience as a senior advisor to former Ontario Minister of Community and Social Services Helena Jaczek, I know that there are hundreds of millions of dollars in catalogued overpayments affecting about one in five of all active cases.

This is the result of an intrusive social assistance system governed by voluminous policy directives laying out hundreds of complicated rules. Even judges in fraud cases have written about the impenetrability of the often “Kafkaesque” regulations. Recipients must ensure their caseworker always has correct and detailed information on their shelter costs, utilities, living arrangements, assets, income, hospitalization and much more, even though none of us could begin to define these terms without sifting through pages of rules. In such a system, errors on the part of both recipients and caseworkers are “not only common but unavoidable.”

By offering such a miserly and suffocating program, we are putting recipients in an impossible position.

Because of this complexity, an impoverished family often does not know it is receiving an overpayment, and that money is immediately spent on the necessities of life. Recovering those funds means holding back a portion of future income support, which could have dire consequences, such as an inability to pay a creditor or even eviction. Research on the small number who do commit social assistance fraud suggests that the main cause is survival. By offering such a miserly and suffocating program, we are putting recipients in an impossible position.”

– Alexi White, “Rampant Welfare Fraud Is A Myth Ontario PCs Have Used To Vilify The Poor.” Huffpost, November 1, 2018.

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“The Ministry of Labour has instructed staff not to initiate any new proactive inspections aimed at preventing wage theft and other employment standards violations, according to an internal memo obtained by the Star — a day after the Progressive Conservative government introduced a bill that will significantly roll back recently enacted labour protections.

The memo, which is signed by the ministry’s acting director of employment standards, Joe Boeswald, says that as of Sept. 3, staff should “not initiate any new inspections.” It also says the ministry will defer inspection and prosecution training for staff who have not yet received it.

Employment standards inspections deal with basic workplace issues such as unpaid wages and overtime. Proactive inspections, which are initiated at the behest of the ministry, are far more effective at recovering unpaid wages, including public holiday pay and overtime, than when individual workers file complaints, according to the ministry’s own data.

Andrew Langille, an employment and labour lawyer with East Toronto Community Legal Services, called the move “very troubling.”“Inspections are important because they are the backbone of enforcement of the ESA (Employment Standards Act),” he said. “It’s really the only way to detect widespread violations of the minimum social standards other than employees reporting violations themselves.”

According to the memo dated Aug. 30, the move is motivated by a significant backlog of employment standards claims filed by workers — exacerbated by a “discretionary spending freeze and subsequent suspension of recruitment” at the ministry.In response to questions from the Star, a ministry spokesperson said the “measures taken are temporary and will be re-evaluated as wait times decrease.”

“The Ministry of Labour continues to identify and conduct proactive Health and Safety inspections and other safety initiatives on specific industry sectors to raise awareness and help prevent injuries and fatalities,” spokesperson Janet Deline said in an email. “We also continue to conduct reactive investigations in response to workplace fatalities, critical injuries, work refusals and complaints.”

“Any inspections that are underway will be completed in the normal manner,” she added.As first reported by the Star, a commitment by the Liberals to double its complement of employment standards inspectors by hiring 175 new staff was iced after the Conservatives were elected in June.”

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SARA MOJTEHEDZADEH, “Ministry of Labour puts hold on proactive workplace inspections, internal memo says.” Toronto Star, October 25, 2018. 

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“The Ontario government has finally unveiled their legislation that would repeal the gains workers made from Bill 148. In an emergency action coordinated by the $15 and Fairness campaign, 500 workers were out in the streets of Toronto yesterday evening, to send a message to Premier Ford that the actions he and his party have taken to repeal Bill 148 has betrayed workers across the province.  

The Bill freezes the minimum wage at $14 and only indexes it to inflation beginning in October 2020.

The ten personal emergency leave (PEL) days, two of which are paid, becomes 8 PEL days that are proscriptive (3 for sickness, 3 for family emergency, 2 for bereavement). None of those PEL days are paid. The requirement for workers to provide doctor’s notes in order to take these emergency leave days have returned. For workplaces with over 50 employees, these measures are worse than what existed before Bill 148.

“Doctors and nurses are busy enough without the additional task of writing sick notes, which will cost taxpayers hundreds of dollars,” says Dr. Kate Hayman, emergency doctor involved in the Decent Work and Health Network. “Let’s call this policy what it is. It’s bad for workers, and it’s bad for the health of every Ontarian. From a government that promised to listen to doctors and end hallway medicine, I expected better”.

The 3 hour pay guarantee for on call and shift work for workers not called in, or for shifts cancelled within 48 hours is among the long list of gains made that will no longer come into effect January 1, 2019.

Equal pay for equal work for part-time, casual, contract, and temp workers has also been scrapped, with the equal pay for equal work provision reverting back to gender equity provisions, rather than for the type of work done. Further, workers will no longer have the provision that put the onus on the employer to prove that workers are not employees in order to prevent job misclassification.

Rules that lowered the threshold of union cards needed to be signed to get employee lists, sector-specific card check, and sector-specific protections against contract flipping has also been eliminated.

Impacts on workers
Given the estimated inflation rate between January 2018, the last increase in the minimum wage and October 2020, workers will be looking at a real wage cut of $0.80 to $1.00 by the time indexing comes into effect.

Molaka Barbin is one of the many food service industry workers that was counting on the planned increase to the minimum wage. “The $15 and Fairness campaign is good for us. $15 is good for us, and good for everyone. Now, I feel very sad. Everywhere, prices are increasing.”

Scrapping paid PEL days will keep workers going to work, even if they’re sick – which will undoubtedly harm public health and put further strain on our public health system. Mandating reasons for each set of PEL days requires workers to jump through more hoops to get them approved, which further adds to the stress that workers and their families will have to deal with. Nadira Bedum, a Toronto based $15 and Fairness organizer said:

“Not only me, but my community – Regent Park is disappointed. When I talked to workers yesterday, they were shocked. 2 paid sick days allows workers who are sick, whose kids are sick to stay home without any stress. Now, there’s no choice for workers.”

The scrapping of equal pay for equal work provisions in Bill 148 sends a message to employers to continue to attack the most vulnerable workers who are not in full-time employment. Since proving job classification is no longer on the onus of the employer, an increase in misclassification is expected, especially since it’s unlikely for the government to increase workplace inspections.

While Bill 148 did not grant card check in all workplaces, it was still a step forward. Rolling back these changes will have a negative effect on union density, with studies showing that union organizing increased significantly in Ontario when the Bob Rae NDP government introduced card check. Once the Harris government came into power and reversed that legislation, organizing decreased significantly.

Contract flipping, which has been used to break unions, (most notably at Pearson Airport) has long been an issue when it comes to backdoors to union busting. Now with the repeal of provisions preventing it, the government is explicitly sending a message to businesses that it is okay. Under the new legislation, contract flipping will increase and intensify.”

– Chloe Rockarts and Gerard Di Trolio, “Ford takes on Bill 148, but there is resistance.” Rankandfile.ca, October 25, 2018.

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Kingston $15 and Fairness’s Doug Nesbitt calls out the Ontaro and Kingston Chambers of Commerce for their irresponsible call to repeal Bill 148 and freeze the minimum wage!  Published in the Kingston Whig-Standard, September 17, 2018.

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“First off, it’s important for people – especially Torontonians – to realize that Bill 5, the Better Local Government Act, isn’t just about Toronto.

The bill also cancels elections for the heads of council in the regional municipalities of Muskoka, Peel, York and Niagara, and replaces them with appointed roles. These positions are the Chief Executive Officers of huge and strategically important areas within the “Greater Golden Horseshoe” region (GGH), Canada’s largest urbanized area and the economic engine of Ontario. The GGH is home to two-thirds of the Ontario population and one-third of the total Canadian population, and the region generates two-thirds of Ontario’s and one-fifth of Canada’s GDP. The Muskoka Region, notably, is a gateway for infrastructure relating to the massive mineral wealth in Northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire. Replacing the elected heads for these regional municipalities by appointees is a huge step toward accelerating corporate access and influence over the bulk of the province’s infrastructure, services, industry, and resources.  

Replacing the elected Mayor of Toronto with an appointed role is a political non-starter, even for a gang as brash as Ford Nation, but this same drive for corporate access and control is behind the move to cut Toronto’s elected council in half. In April, prior to the provincial election, the Liberal government abolished the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) and replaced it with the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT). Unlike the OMB, which was able to overrule local council decisions and replace them with its own, the LPAT has a much more reduced range of powers and can only refer matters back to the related council for resolution. The expectation is that the LPAT will be a key component in a development process that defers to municipal council’s democratic decisions about their local community.

Shortly after the Conservatives’ June 5 election victory, however, the always clever Ontario Chamber of Commerce intervened with its “Blueprint for making Ontario open for business.” This document provides the government with the corporate world’s comprehensive wish list for legislative changes that will increase its profit, power, and profile in all corners of Ontario. The Blueprint contains extensive discussion and itemized proposals on municipal infrastructure and asset management (read: privatization), expanded use of alternative financing and procurement (read: P3s), for changing municipal revenue and taxation tools (read: further shifting the tax burden from business to residential and individual) and changing the employer status of municipalities (read: scrapping fair wage policies and opening municipalities up to corporate tender and procurement).”

– Dave McKee, “CORPORATE INTERESTS BEHIND FORD’S ATTACK ON LOCAL DEMOCRACY.” People’s Voice, September 12, 2018.

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