My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Ontario’s Minimum Wage Increases

Today, I am writing about the changes to the Ontario minimum wage. For full disclosure, I wrote this blog post during the holiday break, with the intent to try and have a fair-minded discussion about this issue. However, as you likely know, all heck broke loose last week in respect of this issue, when certain retailers took steps to reduce the impact of the minimum wage increases and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne responded strongly informing them if they wish to pick a fight, pick it with her and not their employees.

I have updated the post to account for some of these recent events and comments, but the intent remains the same, an attempt to have an even-handed review of the issues surrounding this significant labour change. In my opinion, that review ends in two conclusions:

1. The various studies related to minimum wage increases are not conclusive.
2. Small business owners, in general, will take steps to maintain their bottom line and in many cases, those steps will likely be diametrically opposed to the government policy intent. 

So, what is all this uproar about? As of January 1st, the Ontario Liberal government increased the minimum hourly wage to $14, with a further increase to $15 on January 1, 2019. That is a 32% increase since the beginning of 2017. This follows the lead of Alberta which plans to increase its minimum wage to $15 by October 2018.

This issue is very complex. I have conflicting views: through the prism of an individual and fair-minded person, I feel higher minimum wages, especially in high cost provinces like Ontario and Alberta are necessary to keep workers in these provinces, and to allow those individuals to maintain a minimum standard of living. As an advisor to small businesses, and a former employer of 35 or so people, I also understand one of the main objectives of a business is to make money and increase the bottom line. The margins on products or services are very often correlated to the cost of wages and salaries and thus, any increase to these expenses, can have significant profit consequences.

What the Studies Show

In December of 2017, the Bank of Canada released this report, titled "The Impacts of Minimum Wage Increases on the Canadian Economy".

 Some of the key findings of the paper are as follows:
  • 8% of employees in Canada work at the minimum wage and estimates in the literature suggest that changes in the statutory rate have historically affected the wages of up to 15 per cent of employees with lowest wages. 
  • There could be a very modest inflationary effect ranging from 0.0-.02 percentage points over the next couple years.
  • The increases in the minimum wage lead to higher real wages, which push up firms’ marginal costs, and thus inflation increases accordingly as a fraction of firms adjust their prices in the short term.
  • Weaker labour demand leads to reduced employment and lower hours worked, although the net impact on labour income is positive.
  • Employment losses may amount to about 60,000 workers (it is my understanding this does not mean 60,000 in job losses, but means 60,000 fewer jobs may be created and in the detailed part of the report, it states the number could be as low as 30,000 or as high as 136,000 depending upon the measure used).
  • Consumption would be reduced slightly as the higher inflation would elicit a slight interest rate increase, which would more than offset the higher labour income.
  • Potential output should remain unchanged in the short run. Longer-term effects are possible through automation, productivity changes or changes in labour force participation. The sign of these longer-term effects is, however, ambiguous.
In this Talent Economy article titled “How Does the Minimum Wage Impact the Economy?" a U.S. publication, the author references several academic papers. The first study by The Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, finds “that a $15 minimum wage in California would increase earnings for 38 percent of the state, and businesses would see a reduction in turnover and increases in productivity. Raising prices by 0.6 percent through 2023 would offset increased payroll costs” which reflects a positive outcome of a higher minimum wage.

Yet, in the same article, the author quotes a report published in August 2016 from The Heritage Foundation that finds that a nationwide minimum wage of $15 per hour would lead to 9 million jobs lost, and states with lower costs of living would see the most negative impact. “Efforts to create jobs and reduce poverty should not center on forcing employers to pay higher starting wages,” the story concludes.

So, the studies are not conclusive one way or the other.

The Government's Position

In this Toronto Star opinion piece written yesterday by Kathleen Wynne, the Premier of Ontario, she opines the minimum wage increase is about fairness and opportunity for the citizens of the province. She does not feel the economics gains in Ontario have been shared equally by employers with their employees.

Premier Wynne states the following in the editorial "Big businesses and major corporations continue to celebrate record profits, while many people in this province juggle multiple jobs and still can’t afford the basics. CEOs enjoy massive salary increases while their workers can’t pay their bills.
That’s not right, and it's not who we are as a society".

Business Owners Position

Business owners are far from a homogeneous group and have varied situations and opinions on the topic. However, in general their position seems to be that minimum wages are an admirable social position, but it is not a practical policy, especially for certain industries such as restaurants and retail outlets (For example, it has been reported by the Great White North Franchisee Association, that the cost of implementing minimum wage hikes to each Tim Horton’s franchisee is $6,968 per employee and for the typical store, that results in increased costs of $243,889). Many small business owners feel the increase in minimum wage should be much smaller, phased in over more years and done in conjunction with tax policy that assists lower earning citizens.

How Retailers and Business Owners Can Manage Rising Minimum Wages

As discussed by BDO Canada LLP in this report titled “Nine Ways Retailers Can Manage The Rising Minimum Wage” there are both tactical and strategic options retailers can consider to reduce the impact on their businesses, where the impact of the minimum wage increase is significant.

Tactical Options

The BDO reports provides tactical options including: reducing employee headcount, optimizing shifts that employees work, reducing store hours to match customer shopping behaviour, reducing costs in other areas of the business and finally raising prices, which in effect, passes the wage increase onto the consumer.

In Ontario last week, there were widely reported cases where well known franchise owners scaled back work breaks, benefits and banned employees from accepting tips in an attempt to try and offset the minimum wage increase. These reports led to a huge outroar and publicity. These cases should cause business owners pause for thought; in that, tactical changes must also consider how your customers will react if the changes become public.

Strategic Options

The BDO report notes strategic options range from expanding technology beyond the self-checkout, optimizing government incentives, outsourcing non-core functions, and by giving the consumer more for their money.

In this article by Brenda Bouw in The Globe and Mail titled “Ontario small-business owners raising prices to cover minimum wage hikes”, the author considers the connection between tactical (price increase) and strategic (better client service) when she quotes retail consultant Doug Stephens of the Retail Prophet. Mr. Stephens says if prices are increased; “businesses could also view it as an opportunity to boost their customer service, by giving them more for extra money”. He goes on to say businesses should view this as “a watershed moment to design better and more enjoyable customer experiences that are actually worth more to their consumers”.

Issues Are Not Always Black and White

I have and have had, many small business clients who bend over backwards to never fire employees and to assist them as much as possible and some have even made 100% retention of their employees a condition of them selling their company. Often business owners are portrayed as heartless and just chasing the almighty dollar, yet, I have found many small business owners are the exact opposite and they care deeply about their employees. But, people are in business to make money, so while they may be conflicted in their actions and concerned for their employees, in most cases, their bottom line will influence their decisions.

Increasing the minimum wage has significant consequences to both a provinces employees and employers. Hopefully the economy is strong enough the next few years to absorb these increases, but in the end, only time will tell how these wage increases will impact Ontario and Alberta and whether the governments policy and intention will be served.

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation. Please note the blog post is time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.


  1. This is the most rational analysis and description of insights about the steep minimum wage hike in Ontario. Appreciate the author who commented on this issue from the perspectives of both employees and employers. As a small business owner, I care about my employees' benefits and treat them as part of my family. Most times I worked 80 hours per week and even drag my wife to help me. If pricing the time we invest, our hourly pay is below minimum wage. Those who think small business owners are greedy have never run a business. Now the only thing tying me to business is the lease term: Then the lease term is done in two years, I will close my business. Enough is enough, end of the story.

    1. Hi Anon

      The fact you treat your employees as family is not that unusual. I have seen many biz owners really go out of their way for their employees. I have also seen owners show no loyalty, but it cuts both ways with employees also who are treated great and leave the company and take customers etc.

      Sorry to hear you have had enough, that is the problem with all the recent private corp rules, minimum wage legislation etc. It causes people to just say running a biz is not worth the effort.