Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown says he has heard from enough farmers to know that the Wynne government’s plan for the minimum wage is trouble.
Brown has heard that Ontario farmers are in direct competition with American farmers in the Great Lakes basin. None of the U.S. farmers is looking down the barrel of a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2019. Brown said that will cost Ontario jobs and market share.
At the Norfolk County Fair in Simcoe Friday, Brown said his solution to the problem is two-fold.
First, he would lengthen the introductory period for the new wage by several years. Second, Brown would work out exemptions in agricultural sectors that would be damaged by a $15 hourly wage.
“A lot of farmers feel they are voiceless at Queen’s Park and a lot of people don’t think their concerns are being addressed,” Brown said. “I’m here to listen.”
Brown added that – as premier -- he would systematically review the rules and regulations governing agriculture and eliminate those that prevent Ontario from realizing its potential. The $15 minimum wage aside, Brown said there is a mountain of annoying regulations at Queen’s Park that prevent farmers from being as competitive as possible.
“Right now, farmers are being pummelled,” he said. “We’re not some island in the South Pacific.”
Brown was squired around the fair by local MPP Toby Barrett and his team. If the PCs form the next government, Brown said Barrett would have his ear when it came to changes that improve the lot of Ontario farmers.
Brown is looking forward to next year’s election.
He was not surprised to hear Friday that two more veterans Liberals – MPPs Liz Sandals and Deb Matthews – will not stand for re-election in 2018. Brown said this reinforces what he is hears from Ontario voters, who say they have had enough of the Liberal government.
“I do believe this speaks to a greater momentum for change,” Brown said. “The senior lieutenants in Kathleen Wynne’s government don’t want another encounter with voters. The public is fed up.”
Barrett said he invited Brown to the fair to underscore the leadership role Norfolk County plays in Ontario agriculture. Norfolk, Barrett said, has the highest concentration of high-end farms in the province as well as the most diverse agricultural output.
Barrett would welcome the opportunity to improve the lot of Ontario farmers following 14 years of Liberal rule. During this time, Barrett said, the province’s governance has become over-bearing, intrusive and bloated beyond reasonable limits.
“Sure, we need regulation,” Barrett said. “But we need science-based regulation. How big does government have to get? And how much money do we have to shovel into government before enough is enough?”