London Chamber of Commerce objects to being excluded from recent local debate on minimum wage

By Megan Stacey, The London Free Press

The London Chamber of Commerce is balking at its exclusion from Monday’s consultation meeting on the provincial government’s proposed minimum-wage hike, calling the move “preposterous.”

A full slate of delegates, including business owners, labour leaders and activists, made presentations to the travelling panel of MPPs in London on Monday.

The legislature’s standing committee on finance and economic affairs was hearing feedback on the Liberal government’s plan to overhaul a series of labour laws, including raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The chamber didn’t make the list of delegations, despite applying to do so in June.

“We should have a place at the table. We are the voice of business,” chamber chief executive Gerry Macartney said Wednesday.

The chamber took issue with the format of the meetings, which are taking place across the province.

“I’ve never seen a process like this where the members of the committee get to hand-pick who they would like to have speak,” he said. “We don’t think that’s a fair or transparent process.”

The chamber will make a written submission instead, something it would have done anyway, Macartney said.

Government House Leader Yasir Naqvi office’s said in a written statement that MPPs from all parties had a role in choosing the speakers.

“Given the demand, the all-party committee has been oversubscribed for presenters each day. Per the rules agreed to by all parties, in the event of oversubscription each party is asked to make presenter selections,” Naqvi said through a spokesperson.

“All parties receive the same number of selections, meaning the NDP and Conservatives also had an equal opportunity to choose presenters.”

A London-area Progressive Conservative MPP said it’s a concern that the chamber didn’t make the cut.

“Two thirds of the parties at committee don’t seem to be very interested in listening to the job creators of this province,” said Jeff Yurek, the MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London.

Committee stops across the province included presentations by seven chambers of commerce.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce will also present at Friday’s meeting in Toronto.

Macartney took issue with London’s lineup, saying it didn’t seem balanced.

“It seems heavily weighted on the side of organizations who are either funded by government and/or representations from unions,” he said. Macartney was clear, as other business owners were Monday, that the timeline for the proposed changes — the $15 minimum wage would kick in Jan. 1, 2019 — isn’t reasonable for businesses.

“They just simply cannot absorb these changes in the amount of the time the government is proposing. No one could,” Macartney said, likening the minimum-wage hike to giving everyone in the province a 32 per cent raise.

Yurek said he continues to hear from residents in London and surrounding areas.

“I’m hoping this consultation isn’t a sham,” he said. “I’m hoping they really are taking the time to make these changes. We’ll see at the end of the day if they really have been listening.”

The committee of MPPs makes its final stops on Bill 148 consultation this week, wrapping up with events in Hamilton and Toronto.