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New Ontario premier says no to minimum wage hike

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 Ontario’s hourly employees shouldn’t expect a bump in their minimum wage from the Liberals new premier Kathleen Wynne.

“There is no plan to raise the minimum wage,” said Wynne, during a conference call with Niagara and Hamilton reporters Feb. 14.

She did say the $10.25 current minimum wage may be looked at, but she refused to commit to boosting the rate as social service groups have urged the Liberals to do.

She said any minimum wage increase needs to occur within a range of other social services changes, and can’t be implemented in isolation.

Wynne tapped Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin to become the minister of community and social service. During his swearing-in, he hinted that the government would look at raising the minimum wage.

The Liberals have raised the minimum wage from $9.50 per hour in 2009 to its $10.25 level. And the party also introduced a poverty reduction strategy in 2008 with a goal of cutting child poverty by 25 per cent within five years. The Ontario Child Benefit reached $1,100 annually in 2010, which helped to cut the child poverty rate to six per cent. But the Liberals have stalled over other poverty reduction measures, including raising the OCB to $1,310 per year, and increasing welfare rates.

In fact, last year as a budget cutting move, the Liberals eliminated the discretionary social benefits to the lower income, and the Community Start-Up homelessness programs, leaving a $7 million shortfall. The city late last year picked up part of the tab, about $3.35 million until June 2013. But the programs combine still have a $4.1 million shortfall.

The Liberals did give some of the money back in an announcement made before Christmas last year, said Wynne.

The premier acknowledged how the province provides social services “needs to be looked at,” but she didn’t say if the province would give any additional funding to municipalities such as Hamilton, which are hard hit with large social service clients.

“We need to look at the net benefit to municipalities,” she said.

During the half hour conference, Wynne touched on a range of topics from casinos and the horse-racing industry, to wind farms, and the high unemployment of the Niagara area.

She also defended her decision to become the Agricultural Minister for one year, saying she wants to create jobs for the province. Wynne added she does have a rural background, which she doesn’t often reveal to people.

“I’m a generation from the farm,” she said. “No premier can come from everywhere. I will rely on the people of Kenora, Dundas, Aylmer, Renfrew and Thunder Bay.”

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