Some Ontario farms could get minimum wage support, Wynne says

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (r) pledged her support for a positive NAFTA negotiation outcome at the International Plowing Match. (John Greig photo)

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne opened the door to potential support for some farming businesses during a rapid increase to a $15 minimum wage by 2019.

Wynne spoke to reporters on the opening day of the International Plowing Match in Walton Ont., and refused to move on the aggressive timeline for the adoption of a $15 minimum wage. The general minimum wage is currently $11.40 per hour and Wynne has pledged that it will move to $15 by 2019.

That has caused concern in the business community and for farmers, especially those who need large numbers of employees, at low wages, in order to get off a harvest.

The provincial Liberal government’s minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, Jeff Leal, who answered questions along with Wynne, gave the example of Charlie Stevens of Wilmot Orchards, a Bowmanville-area apple grower.

Leal pointed out that Stevens, who grows Gala apples, competes with farmers growing Gala apples in Chile, Washington state and Mexico and needs to be able to remain competitive.

Wynne acknowledged there have been discussions about the concerns of farmers who pay their employees minimum wage, but also supply housing and transportation, such as to migrant workers.

“I’ve asked Jeff to look at whether there’s something, some supports that can be put in place,” she said. “I’m not sure exactly what those are going to look like, but we recognize that the agriculture community has some challenges that other sectors don’t.

“We know that there need to be some supports put in place during this transition,” she said.

Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown says he’s heard concerns from farmers about the pace of the adoption of minimum wage.

“A lot of the frustration I’ve heard from farmers over this issue is not particularly over $15, it was over giving enough notice, so they can adapt,” said Brown.

In roundtable discussions with farmers, the increase has been a concern, he said, but a lot of the concern was over the lack of time to adjust to having to pay minimum wage workers an increase of close to 30 per cent.

Brown has not objected to a longer-term phase-in of the increase to $15.

New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horvath also supported an increase to $15 as quickly as possible.

The first day of the International Plowing Match attracts many provincial members of the legislature, their staff and the Queen’s Park press corps. For many, it’s their annual trip to visit the rural community.

This year, politicians also had to slog through mud and rain to deliver their agriculture policy messages. The plowing match cancelled its second day, due to muddy and wet conditions, but was scheduled to be open again Wednesday.

— John Greig is a field editor for Glacier FarmMedia based at Ailsa Craig, Ont. Follow him at @jgreig on Twitter.

Patrick Brown
Washington | Reuters -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday praised a bipartisan bill that would fast-track trade deals through Congress, urging lawmakers to pass it quickly so his administration can advance a trade pact with Pacific nations. "The bill put forward today would help us write those rules in a way that avoids the mistakes from our past, seizes opportunities for our future, and stays true to our values," Obama said in a statement. "It would level the playing field, give our workers a fair shot, and for the first time, include strong fully enforceable protections for workers' rights, the environment, and a free and open internet," he said. Past trade deals, he said in a statement, "haven't always lived up to their promise, and that's why I will only sign my name to an agreement that helps ordinary Americans get ahead." The proposed Bipartisan Trade Priorities and Accountability Act "represents the most significant upgrade to our approach to trade in over four decades," U.S. Trade Representative Michael From an said separately Thursday. Trade promotion authority (TPA) is considered a key step toward U.S. involvement in trade pacts -- in this case, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), now being negotiated between the U.S., Canada, Japan, Australia, Mexico and seven other countries. "TPA is not a new concept that affords extraordinary negotiating powers to the president," Devry Boughner Vorwerk, director of international business relations for Cargill, said in a separate company release Thursday urging fast-track legislation. "Every president since (Franklin Roosevelt) has been given fast-track authority to negotiate trade agreements," said Boughner, who's also co-chair of the U.S. Business Coalition for TPP. "Since the last fast-track bill expired in 2007, progress on new free trade agreements has slowed," she said. "Congress needs to pass TPA if the U.S. wants to keep its place in the world economy." -- Reporting for Reuters by Roberta Rampton, Jeff Mason and Krista Hughes. Includes files from Network staff.

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