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Ontario party leaders fling mud over minimum wage at Plowing Match

Ontario party leaders didn't get to drive tractors at this year's International Plowing Match, but they did debate the Wynne government's plan to bring in a $15 minimum wage by 2019.

Wet weather washes out photo opp but with election looming, leaders asked about farmers' costs

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Tuesday the Ontario Liberals won't waver from their plan to implement a $15 minimum wage by 2019. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

Overnight rain and mucky fields meant that at this year's International Plowing Match, Ontario's party leaders didn't get to try their hand at driving a tractor. 

It's become a must-attend event for all party leaders. But this year there won't be the obligatory photos of Premier Kathleen Wynne, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath or Patrick Brown of the PCs doing their best to cut a furrow while the cameras click.

Many Ontario farmers struggled with too much rain this spring and on Tuesday's plowing match it was no different. Overnight showers reduced fields to muck, forcing organizers to cancel the politicians' plowing match. 

The event remains a key forum to spotlight the parties' policies that affect agriculture in a province that generates almost one quarter of Canada's total farm revenue.  

Muddy conditions meant the leaders of Ontario's political parties couldn't take part in the traditional plowing match. This year's event was held in Walton, just east of Goderich. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Now in its 100th year, the International Plowing Match moves to a different farm each year. This year it's being held in Walton, just east of Goderich, in farm-rich Huron County.  

​And while there was no plowing, there was a fair bit of mud-slinging as party leaders debated the Wynne government's controversial plan to bring in a $15 minimum wage. 

If passed by the Legislature, Ontario's minimum wage would increase from its current $11.40 an hour to $14 at hour on Jan. 1, 2018, then up to $15 to start 2019. 

With an election coming in the spring and a sizeable media contingent on hard, party leaders couldn't resist the temptation to slam each other.

Brown said farmers are telling him the wage hike is too much too soon. 

When asked about the challenges the wage jump poses, Wynne vowed to work with Jeff Leal, the minister for small business and argiculture, to ensure both sectors are supported through the transition.

However she said the $15 wage will remain Liberal policy. 

Ontario bean grower Jim Gowland said Ontario's proposed $15 minimum wage puts pressure on farmers whose crops trade at market values, making it impossible to pass the extra costs on. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

"In this province that is so wealthy ... when we've got people working fulltime who have to go to the food bank, that's not good enough," she said.

​Brown said the province should lengthen the transition period to ensure small business owners and farmers have more time to adapt.

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown told reporters Tuesday in Walton, Ont., that the Liberals' plan to bring in a $15 minimum wage was done too quickly. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Horwath said her party has long pushed for a minimum wage increase and wonders why the Liberals didn't do it sooner. 

"It's reprehensible that on the eve of an election, which is coming very shortly, that's when this premier decides that she's suddenly going to wake up and hear the struggles of working people in this province." 

Jim Gowland, whose family farms beans in Teeswater, Ont., said the wage hike puts pressure on farmers like him, who he said can't simply raise the price of their crops to cover the extra costs.

"As farmers, we don't begrudge people earning a good living and making more money, but we have to bear that cost somewhere within our production," he said. "We are an open commodity. There's international pricing so we can't just pass the cost on, we have to absorb it within our operations."

With files from the Canadian Press

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