Ottawa

Businesses could have handled a $15 minimum wage, says CFO

Small businesses railed against the previous Liberal government's attempt to raise the minimum wage to $15 as too much and too soon. But at least one Ottawa chief financial officer says businesses could have handled the transition if they better prioritized people.

Companies that can't afford $15 minimum wage should reconsider their spending, says Allyson Chisnall

MediaStyle CFO and COO Allyson Chisnall says the key to affording a higher minimum wage and benefits is to place your employees' needs above other spending and your own standard of living. (Mediastyle)
Small businesses railed against the previous Liberal government's attempt to raise the minimum wage to $15 as too much and too soon. But at least one Ottawa chief financial officer says businesses could have handled the transition if they better prioritized people.

"I've been working with small businesses for many, many years and when I look at where the money goes it's about choices," said Allyson Chisnall, the CFO at MediaStyle, a progressive public affairs and strategy firm founded by former Liberal and NDP staffer Ian Capstick.

"Do you need to take that person out for a meal? Do you need to have the cell phone package that you have? It's a choice. We choose to put our money behind our team," Chisnall told CBC Ottawa's All In A Day on Thursday.

Chisnall says the company's payroll represents more than 55 per cent of sales, but the company still makes a profit.

On Tuesday the Ford government introduced the bill which would replace Bill 148. Among its proposals was a a freeze of the minimum wage to $14 an hour until 2020 as part of a rollback of labour reforms.

It's a decision Chisnall didn't agree with and one she says she wasn't consulted on.

It's a similar refrain to what small businesses said about the wage increases when they were first introduced.

Julie Kwiecinski, Ontario director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, says her members are relieved the changes introduced in Bill 148 are not going through.

She said many said the cost increases were too much to bear.

"On the minimum wage side you were looking at a minimum wage increase of 21 per cent in only three months. No time for businesses to plan (and) they weren't consulted on it," Kwiecinski told All in a Day.

"And add on to that these other changes and it's just a tsunami of unbearable costs and red tape."

Julie Kwiecinski, a director at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, says small businesses are relieved the Ford government is freezing minimum wage at $14 for the time being, and rolling back some other reforms. (Julie Kwiecinski)

The impact of minimum wage increases aren't limited to employers paying minimum wage, Kwiecinski said. It also affects employers who may make more than the minimum.

"When you raise the floor at the minimum wage level, you are expected to raise it for other employees," Kwiecinski said.

Kwiecinski said the $15 an hour wage seemed like a random figure pulled from a hat, without consideration of what small businesses could afford.

But Chisnall doesn't buy the argument.

"The research that I've done shows that in most cities in Ontario you need $15 or more per hour just to live. It's a living wage, it's not a minimum wage. And I know here in Ottawa, working with the team at MediaStyle, when they pay rent and transportation and basic food and accommodation they would need substantially more than that," Chisnall said.

Owners of some big companies in the province, according to Chisnall, make 2,000 or 3,000 times the amount their minimum wage employees earn. If they say they can't afford a boost in minimum wage, they need "to take a hard look at their standard of living," she said.

"That's not fair."

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