With the official arrival of Summer I am sure we are all looking forward to sunnier and warmer days ahead. While, for a lot of our members, thoughts of cottage vacation, beaches and time spent with family is a great topic of debate in most households, so are the significant amount of things that are happening in your own businesses. Everything from the continued rising costs of energy and a newly announced labour plan Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs put out by the Provincial Liberal government.
The CK Chamber has significant concerns about how the proposed changes will continue to challenge, not only Ontario’s competitive landscape but, more importantly, Chatham-Kent’s competitive landscape. In my opinion, it certainly looks like our Premier is beginning to feel the pressure of other questionable decisions and is facing great scrutiny over what appears to be a lack of common sense approach to achieving the right balance for all business in our province. I can’t help but feel this was an aim to win back some votes gearing up for the next provincial election.
As a Chamber, we believe there is already a competitive imbalance within the province and, locally, you continue to tell us the same. Back in the summer of 2016, the topic of minimum wage was being freshly resurfaced; again more forcefully in the last 2 months with the new labour proposals being brought forward.
It was my view then, and remains the same now, that notably hiking the minimum wage has potential to do considerable harm. The direct effects may decrease employment opportunities among low-skilled workers—the very group these policies are intended to help – if not reducing new employment outright. Hiking the minimum wage could lead to a reduction in hours or degrade other benefits (such as on-the-job training) for those employees that need retooling and retraining to stay current in their jobs. It’s far more likely to force employers to continue to look toward automation, mechanization to replace routine labour work and further add pressure to those employers that require highly coveted skilled trade labour work in their lines of operation - a skill gap that has already been painfully acknowledged as a leading cause of existing low growth, expansion and output.
To the extent of little or zero collaboration by the Provincial Government to consult on impacts of such magnitude, I believe, is a misguided, uninformed step by the Wynn Government to win back voters that have clearly lost confidence in her party’s direction and her leadership. A careless proposition that will make it harder for low-skilled workers to obtain entry-level positions, a higher minimum wage perversely hinders the development of human capital, harms the long-term career prospects of the very people it’s desperately trying to help. In fact, Canadian research has found that hiking minimum wage has “no statistically significant” impact on poverty and in some cases causes further disparity by increasing the gap of those that have and those that have not. Not to mention the increase cost burden taken on by Chatham-Kent businesses – where profitability is being threatened on every front.
In a statement released by the CK Chamber May 30th, I noted “The reforms outlined in the Changing Workplaces Review cautioned that any regulatory change shouldn’t impair the competitiveness of businesses, however, with Chatham-Kent’s economic drivers are created largely through farming, agriculture and small business, I have concerns this will punitively affect these businesses, their competitiveness and abilities to continue their positive growth trends locally. We need to ensure the right balance is made to provide a competitive environment for our businesses to succeed in, affording them manageable costs and to offer sustainable employment to local residents.”
Again, we are organizing to host summer roundtable discussions to hear directly from you - our members. While the increase to minimum wage is likely the most identifiable layer of this proposal we believe there is an obligation to communicate more clearly the full and complete picture that includes the other elements within and are looking for your feedback. For us to take the time to provide more clarity to you while gaining valuable insights directly from you will enable us to take your concerns and challenges as we work to shape policy that is innovative and transparent for local economies in a more thoughtful, balanced and supportive structure based on collaboration.
In speaking about collaboration. on May 3rd, the CK Chamber hosted our Annual Municipal Update where we were able to enjoy an early morning breakfast, networking while spending the morning in discussion with Mayor Hope. Outlined in his address were a number of exciting and positive activities that in strong efforts working with the CK Chamber, CK Workforce Planning Board, Municipal administration and Council have created CK Plan 2035, a community wide strategy. One that remains an ever evolving strategy plan that will see Chatham-Kent become a market leader in growth, stability and prosperity. The messaging was clear; there are strong signs of economic growth supported by positive trending numbers provided by Economic Development and Workforce Planning Board. Local employment numbers continue to improve, our small business partners continue to grow and look to expansion opportunities. These are exciting times for Chatham-Kent with a number of employers hosting Job Fairs throughout the community as they look to fill those precious jobs being created by demand. While CK does have some hurdles to climb, I am optimistic our future is beginning to look brighter than ever.
Our CK Chamber, as a business leader, remains committed to acting as your ally and partner, to always ensure we are at the table, involved in discussions that matter most to the business community of CK. The Chamber’s Board of Directors is a team of deeply diverse thinkers, full of talent and ambition. Behind the scenes we regularly and actively meet, voice and advocate for our members. We are also grateful to the many team members that work so hard on every committee - planning for events such as our recently held and highly successful Annual Chamber Golf tournament, Feature Industry Acknowledgements, Featured Entrepreneur Recognition, our partnership in presenting the Feature Act recognition and the dedicated work behind the planning of the Annual Rural Urban Dinner Awards that will be held on November 22nd.
With many great local attractions, activities and pleasures available here in our great Municipality it’s my hope that you take some time to spend with family and friends and enjoy what Chatham Kent has to offer you. On behalf of the Board and staff of the Chatham-Kent Chamber, we wish you safe and fun fueled summer.