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Section 1: The Minimum Wage Advisory Panel

  • Issued: January 27, 2014
  • Content last reviewed: January 2014

1.1 Establishment and Structure of the Minimum Wage Advisory Panel

The Ontario Minimum Wage Advisory Panel (MWAP or the 'Panel') was established by the Government of Ontario (the 'Government') by the Order-in-Council (OIC) number 757/2013. In June 2013, I was appointed to conduct an independent review of the process of setting the minimum wage in Ontario, and to advise the Minister of Labour, the Honourable Yasir Naqvi, on an approach for determining the minimum wage in the future. A panel of five members was appointed to represent various stakeholders on the Panel and provide advice and assistance. The Panel's composition is as follows:

  • Chair:
    • Anil Verma, Professor, University of Toronto
  • Panel Members:
    • Laura D'Amico, Student, Wilfrid Laurier University
    • Beth Potter, Tourism Industry Association of Ontario
    • Gary Rygus, Retail Council of Canada
    • Antoni Shelton, Ontario Federation of Labour
    • Adam Vasey, Pathway to Potential

Brief biographies of Panel members are attached in Appendix 2.

1.2 The Mandate of the Minimum Wage Advisory Panel

The Panel was given the following mandate:

"The Minimum Wage Advisory Panel will examine Ontario's current minimum wage policy and provide advice on an approach for determining the minimum wage in the future. It will examine the effectiveness of other jurisdictions' minimum wage models."

A copy of the full Terms of Reference is attached in Appendix 1.

Right from the very beginning, Panel members raised the issue of how our mandate should be interpreted. Initially, there was some confusion which later became a fundamental disagreement among Panel members about the scope of the Panel's mandate. Several members supported a broad interpretation of the Panel's mandate, in that the Panel should be recommending not only a mechanism for minimum wage revisions but also setting benchmarks that would relate more directly to level of the minimum wage. It was argued that setting a specific goal for the minimum wage would be in keeping with the Government's stated goal of reducing poverty in the province. Other Panel members took the view that it was outside the Panel's mandate to consider any recommendation that would lead to determination of a specific level for the minimum wage. This discussion took place on many occasions from the beginning right until the end of the Panel's work.

As Chair, I interpreted the mandate as focusing on how the minimum wage rate should be set in the future, based on clarifications sought from and provided by the Government. It became clear to me that the mandate did not include providing a recommendation on what the current or future rate should be. This interpretation is reinforced by the mandate's focus on the "approach for determining the minimum wage in the future." The mandate did not specifically ask the Panel to recommend a minimum wage rate. Had this been a part of the mandate, the setting of a rate would have been explicitly mentioned. This interpretation has certainly limited the scope of the Panel's recommendations but perhaps this simply reflects the Government's intent to tackle the issue in multiple steps.

From our consultation with the public, it is apparent that various stakeholders expected that the mandate of the Panel would include a determination and/or recommendation of the minimum wage rate being set at a specific level. This was made clear by the amount of time and materials devoted to addressing this issue, as opposed to the set of questions set out in the Minimum Wage Consultation Paper. Clearly, this is an issue of great significance and importance to Ontarians, and the Government would be well advised to pay attention to their feedback on setting the level of minimum wages. These opinions and feedback are summarized elsewhere in this report for onward transmission to the Government. For all the reasons stated above, no recommendations on a specific rate or any benchmark that would lead to the determination of a specific rate for the minimum wage will be made in this report.

I have included a separate section summarizing the views and submissions of the public, which largely address their opinions on the current minimum wage rate and a suggested rate or benchmark. The submissions are extremely informative about the general thoughts and opinions of various individuals and stakeholder groups.

1.3 Outreach, Public Consultations, Briefings and Research

Public consultations were conducted through two complementary channels of communication between the public and the Panel. In-person submissions were invited from the public in ten cities. Ninety-two presentations were made by organizations and individuals at these consultations.

The list of cities was chosen in consultation with the Ministry of Labour and its contacts with stakeholder groups. It is important to note that the number of cities that the Panel could travel to was limited by a number of constraints. The foremost consideration was the need to complete the Panel's work within the time limit imposed by the Order-in-Council. There was also a need expressed to limit costs. The availability of Panel members was a consideration as well.

The Panel also invited the public to make submissions online through its dedicated webpage on the Ministry of Labour's website. The public could also make submissions by sending comments to the Panel's email address, by fax, by mail or by leaving a voicemail at the Panel's toll-free number. Three hundred and forty written submissions were received through these channels.

The Chair also met, by invitation, with two task groups set up by the Ministry of Labour whose work touches on the work of this Panel: The Vulnerable Workers Task Group and Small Business Task Group.

A number of initiatives were undertaken to gather basic information, data and research findings to support the Panel's work. Three sources of information were used in the Panel's work.

  • The Ministry of Finance provided a number of tables and charts (see Section 2) to describe the profile of minimum wage workers in Ontario and trends in the minimum wage relative to other wages over time.
  • The Ministry of Labour compiled information on minimum wage policies and practices in other Canadian provinces and in selected OECD countries.
  • The third source of information was published academic research on the effects of the minimum wage. This research was conducted by graduate research assistants under my guidance (see Section 3).

Since there is no ongoing program of research to inform minimum wage policymaking, substantial effort was expended in gathering relevant information. While I am satisfied that we were able to gather the most important information that was pertinent to our work, there were gaps in our knowledge that limited the scope of our considerations.

1.4 Methodology

The Panel adopted a two-part, multi-level methodology to conduct its work. The two essential inputs consisted of public consultations and in-house research.

A Consultation Paper on Ontario's Minimum Wage was created by the Ministry of Labour in consultation with the Chair. This paper provides a brief background to Ontario's minimum wage and poses eight specific questions for public input. A copy of the Consultation Paper (attached in Appendix 3) was placed on a webpage accessible through the Ministry of Labour's website. The address of this webpage was widely circulated through media releases. The public was encouraged to address these questions in their submissions to the Panel.

1.5 Process of Report Production

As set out in the Terms of Reference, this report is written by the Chair of the Panel. The following summarizes the process and criteria I have used in producing the report.

In arriving at the final recommendations I have considered all inputs but subjected them to a set of criteria outlined here. Public submissions by their very nature are highly diverse on almost all issues relating to revisions in the minimum wage.

However, it should be noted that there was near universal agreement on making the process of revising minimum wages transparent, predictable, fair and less "political". It is rare to see such consensus emerge among a wide cross-section of Ontarians. My approach in this report is to accurately summarize the diversity of feedback from the public. Capturing this diversity serves a purpose beyond the work of this Panel. There is highly useful feedback in there that can inform policymaking in other related areas of public policy in the future.

Public input frequently went beyond the mandate of this Panel. Again, such feedback can be very useful for policymaking in the future in a number of areas. I have summarized such feedback in Appendix 6.

Our final recommendations are built around the broad consensus within the Panel. For example, there was broad agreement within the Panel that the basis for revisions to the minimum wage should be easy to understand and administer. The Panel also identified strongly with the public input that the revision process should be predictable, fair, transparent and somewhat removed from Government's near-term concerns.

As can be expected from such an exercise, the Panel's deliberations went well beyond these basic recommendations on a wide range of issues concerning the minimum wage. This was also true of public input, which extended frequently beyond the limited mandate of this Panel. Even though opinions within the Panel and the members of the public did not always converge on many of these issues they are summarized here for the benefit of the Government because they can be very useful in guiding minimum wage policy development in the future. Some of this feedback can be useful in guiding policy in related areas such as poverty reduction or creating skills training opportunities for vulnerable groups.

1.6 Organization of the Report

Section 2 provides a profile of minimum wage workers in Ontario along with trends over time and across other jurisdictions. Section 3 summarizes academic research about the economic impact of minimum wages. Section 4 discusses the various policy options available to the Ontario Government, along with the final recommendations and justification for these recommendations. Section 5 summarizes the recommendations.

Finally, Section 6 offers some conclusions about what the Government of Ontario could learn from the experience and observations of the Panel.

Appendix 6 summarizes issues that are not within the mandate of the review but were raised during public consultations. In doing so, I acknowledge the contribution of all the stakeholders in raising these issues, and hope that the Government will find it pertinent to policymaking in the broader context in the future.

Other Appendices to this report contain a number of additional summaries and references to statutory, statistical, academic and other sources of material used in the production of this report.

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