Farmers fearful Ontario minimum wage hike would sink profits

Ottawa-area farmers who are just starting to dry out from a rainy first few months of the growing season say next year's minimum wage hike is already a concern.

Planned jump from $11.40 to $15 would cut too deep into thin, unpredictable profits, they warn

Some of the produce on sale at the Lansdowne Park farmers' market. Vendors say they're choosing to not raise prices this rainy summer in order to stay competitive, but some warn that may not be the case next year when Ontario's minimum wage could jump to $14. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Ottawa-area farmers who are just starting to dry out from a rainy first few months of the growing season say next year's minimum wage hike is already a concern.

Rainfall amounts in Ottawa have neared or set records in April, May, June and July, which has swamped farmers who either couldn't get out into their fields to plant seeds or, once planted, saw those seeds get drowned.

At this past weekend's Lansdowne Park farmers' market, vendors said they had finally started to get some much-needed hot, dry weather in the last two to three weeks, helping them fill the gaps in their growing plans that had been washed out earlier this spring and summer.

But some brought up another issue that's looming in the political rather than meteorological forecast.

"The big issue is going to be minimum wage going up next year," said Jonathan Rochon of Rochon Gardens in rural southeast Ottawa.

"That's what's scaring everybody, especially farmers."

Jonathan Rochon, a farmer in the rural southeast Ottawa community of Edwards, said it's been a tough year for farmers with all the rain, but it's not a complete loss and has taken a turn for the better with good recent weather. He warns next year could be worse with a proposed minimum wage hike. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

The majority Liberal provincial government is proposing a number of changes to Ontario's labour system.

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.

"The increase of 30 per cent [by 2019] is going to kill us," Rochon said. 

"We hire about a dozen temporary foreign workers [a year], we hire 20 Canadians, everyone falls in the [minimum wage] area where we'll have to raise salaries across the board … it wipes out all our profits."

Mark Just from Just Farms in Alexandria, east of Ottawa, said he didn't raise retail prices for his produce during last year's drought or this year's heavy rains, but isn't ruling out having to do so next year with higher wages biting into already thin and unpredictable profit margins.

"That one we'll probably have to pass onto the consumer. I think you're going to see that throughout the retail business, whether it's at farmers' markets, Loblaws, Super C, wherever," he said.

Farmer Mark Just says the proposed minimum wage hike would make small business owners work harder and force consumers to pay more for many different products. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

The Liberals have answered such criticism by saying their goal is to get people out of poverty without making it too costly to run a business.

"We are going to work with businesses, particularly small businesses, to make sure that we do everything we can to help with the phase-in. Exactly what those mechanisms will be, I can't tell you at this point," Premier Kathleen Wynne said in Ottawa late last month when asked about relief for businesses affected by the labour changes

"I'm committed to helping business and I'm committed to making sure that people are treated fairly. Those things should not be in conflict with one another."