Algonquin Highlands braces for Bill 148
By Sue Tiffin
Published Nov. 9, 2017
Potential costs that might result from Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, could exceed $1 million in Algonquin Highlands.
The controversial Bill 148 has been in the news for increases it brings to the minimum wage from $11.40 to $15 per hour, beginning in 2019. But it also brings changes to the workplace, including equal pay for part-time workers and increases to on-call pay for firefighters and other emergency workers that smaller municipalities across Ontario say would be detrimental.
“The most dramatic cost would be the minimum three hour on-call provisions in the legislation, if applied to the volunteer firefighters,” reads a report from treasurer Tammy McKelvey discussed at council on Nov. 2, which estimates a cost of $1,161,576 for such a change. “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.”
“This is not a debate about whether or not we value our volunteer firefighters, because we do,” said Mayor Carol Moffatt. “This is about the bottom line and if calculations based on the current understanding are correct, $1.1 million impact to Algonquin Highlands is no different than OPP billing reform except without the five-year phase-in period.”
McKelvey’s report of potential costs due to the bill changes also includes a $70,000 estimate for calls and practices of the fire department, $1,000 for public works after-hours calls, $24,429 for public works to be on call to plow in the winter time, $6,000 for vacation pay increase from four to six per cent, and a $5,500 cost for an increase in minimum wage, resulting in an estimated impact of $101,429.60.
“Admittedly, the world’s been on fire about minimum wage, not understanding or realizing that within Bill 148 is all of this,” said Moffatt.
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) filed a submission last week to the province’s Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs.
The submission notes that municipalities would struggle without an exemption for volunteer firefighters from on-call provisions – they would need to be paid for three hours while on call, even if a fire isn’t taking place.
“If this full exemption is not provided, it will force over at least 100 municipal governments to reconsider what fire services will be provided,” reads the submission.
“Municipal governments have property taxes as their primary revenue source and we are not permitted to run operating deficits which the other two orders of government can,” reads the submission. “Bill 148, if not amended, will force municipal governments to either greatly increase property taxes, reduce local services or have to do both.”
“This is not a conversation about not providing employees with what is a good thing, it’s about, how’s a municipality our size supposed to manage a 25 per cent increase without any phase-in,” said Moffatt.
“It’s absolutely incredible.”
The bill has passed a second reading and is now at the amendment stage. According to the AMO, the Minister of Labour “has assured AMO and delegates that the unintended consequences in the drafting as relates to municipal governments will be re-examined.”
Algonquin Highlands council agreed to send a letter in support of recommendations for what AMO had put forward.