Municipalities fear impact of Bill 148
|By Mark Arike and Lisa Gervais | November 10, 2017
If it becomes law as is, Bill 148 is expected to deal a crushing blow to local municipalities.
Staff across the county have calculated the potential impact and the figures range from tens of thousands of dollars to more than $1 million.
At the Nov. 9, Algonquin Highlands meeting, treasurer Tammy McKelvey said it could cost the township more than $1 million. She termed it a “substantial” impact on the municipality.
“The most dramatic cost would be the minimum three-hour on-call provisions in the legislation, if applied to the volunteer firefighters,” McKelvey said in a written report. “This sort of cost would require a complete change of the fire department in regards to service provisions, and, or, conversion to a full-time department.”
It essentially means paying volunteer firefighters on-call rates for a minimum of three hours a day.
Mayor Carol Moffatt said the changes would be “more than untenable for a rural municipality like ours … taxes go up, or services would go down, so that’s where we’d be,” she said.
In Minden Hills, treasurer Lorrie Blanchard will table a report to today’s (Nov. 9) council meeting, citing about $822,000 in additional costs for her township. The wage increase would be close to $730,000 and benefits up by about $92,000. On-call costs make up the bulk of the increase, especially for firefighters, but also roads, environmental and property and community services.
At the County of Haliburton, human resources manager Andrea Bull said it will add at least $273,000 to the budget. This includes an extra $5,000 for student jobs, $42,000 for on-call employees including EMS managers, a roads operation manager and plow operators; $28,000 for part-time paramedics and library staff, and $158,000 in statutory pay.
“This proposed bill will cause huge financial implications on employers should it be passed as it reads,” Bull said in a report. She calculated the most significant increases, but said there are many unknowns at this time.
During an Oct. 25 meeting, County Warden Brent Devolin said he’d like to know what the total province-wide impact is on businesses and municipalities.
“I think it’s going to be staggering,” Devolin said. “It’s going to have the letter B [billions] in the price tag.”
The bill, also known as the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, includes a minimum wage increase from $11.60 to $15 per hour in 2019, increased vacation time for some workers, new rules around holiday pay and additional leave provisions, among other changes. At the county level, Moffatt reminded councillors it’s not just a minimum wage issue.
“People have gotten, understandably, hung up on … the minimum wage. But Bill 148 is so much more than that,” she said.
CAO Mike Rutter agreed, adding “it’s [minimum wage] not the thing that’s going to break our back. It’s the other stuff that will break our back.”
The bill passed its second reading in the Ontario legislature and has gone back to the standing committee for amendments.
Devolin said he expects it will undergo more revisions than most bills because of the mass pushback. Coun. Murray Fearrey of Dysart et al, said he’d like to know how much money the provincial government stands to gain if the bill passes.
“That’s the catalyst here,” Fearrey said. “They’re going to benefit from most of these implementations.”
In Highlands East, CAO Shannon Hunter said once minimum wage hits $15 per hour, she’s calculated an increase of nearly $17,000 to hire the same number of summer students as this past summer.
“The increase in the minimum wage has a huge implication for us because we’ve always been a very proactive municipality supporting summer students,” Hunter said … “but when you see the number on paper, it is quite substantial.”
With the bill’s on-call provisions, Hunter said it could cost an extra $13,000 to hire plow operators for four hours a week at 20 weeks. And, if volunteer firefighters are considered on-call, that will tack on a lot more. The municipality has between 50-55 firefighters. Part-time emergency staff leave is expected to cost them unicipality $2,700.
Coun. Cecil Ryall asked if the new law would override any new managerial contracts with employees. Hunter said it would.
“It’s effecting us all—in a huge way,” said Burton, who called it “foolish Bill 148.”
The Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus recently sent a letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne asking that she get rid of changes in labour legislation and The Association of Municipalities of Ontario, which represents all 444 of the province’s municipalities, is seeking amendments to the bill – particularly around emergency responders – and has encouraged its members to let their MPPs know how it will affect them. The Rural Ontario Municipal Association is also advocating on behalf of municipalities.
Dysart et al hasn’t yet calculated the cost impact.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander. LISA GERVAIS is the editor.