Ontario fiscal update expected to deliver relief for small businesses

TORONTO _ The Ontario government is expected to announce relief for small businesses today in a bid to help ease the transition to the province’s increasing minimum wage.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa is expected to unveil the government’s plan in the province’s fall economic statement, which will be released at 3 p.m.

Sousa said last week that the province would deliver help for those who had voiced concerns about the increase in minimum wage set to take effect next year.

“I will be announcing a whole set of new comprehensive initiatives to help small businesses in Ontario reduce costs and become even more competitive to help them improve their bottom line,” Sousa had said during a speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

The government has announced it will increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by Jan. 1, 2019 _ with the increase phased in gradually and rising with inflation, as scheduled, from $11.60 currently to $14 an hour on Jan. 1, 2018 and $15 the following year.

Business groups have argued that needed offsets for business should have comes months ago.

“Businesses will have started to increase costs, they will have started to let people go, they will have stopped hiring people that they might have hired because they’re planning now under the presumption there is no offset,” Karl Bauldauf spokesman for the The Keep Ontario Working Coalition, which includes the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, has said.

A report from the coalition released in September said the risk of job losses due to the minimum wage increase could be significantly reduced if the government extended the policy phase-in period. An economic analysis of the wage increase by the coalition concluded over 185,000 jobs could be impacted by the hike.

Meanwhile, the province’s economic watchdog, the Financial Accountability Office, has estimated the minimum wage increase would see more than 50,000 people lose their jobs.

However, many economists support the government move, saying hiking the minimum wage boosts economic activity and increases people’s purchasing power.

In Tuesday’s fiscal update, Sousa is also expected to confirm Ontario’s 2018 budget will be balanced.

“I will introduce new measures to invest in our economy, transform government services, support seniors and promote small business,” Sousa said last week. “All of which are afforded because we take a balanced approach delivering a balanced budget.”

With a spring election looming, the government has rolled out a number of high profile measures in recent weeks including a seniors strategy, opening applications for free tuition for post-secondary students early and creating 1,200 new hospital beds across the province.