Ontario party leaders fling mud over minimum wage at Plowing Match
Wet weather washes out photo opp but with election looming, leaders asked about farmers' costs
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.
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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.
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.
"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.
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."
"Because we're Farmers" this one brought the house down at <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ipm2017?src=hash">#ipm2017</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ontpoli?src=hash">#ontpoli</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LdnOnt?src=hash">#LdnOnt</a> 🚜 <a href="https://t.co/1LUaGENC5B">pic.twitter.com/1LUaGENC5B</a>—@AndrewLuptonCBC
With files from the Canadian Press