How Barrie and Innisfil residents have adapted to Ontario’s minimum-wage increase

Stroud’s Jess Lee didn’t have any problems finding a landscaping job this summer.

While the teenager was able to secure employment with a relative, she said there are still plenty of jobs for younger people in the Barrie and Innisfil area.

“There are a lot of good first-time jobs here and you don’t need to have any experience,” Lee said. “You have to have some motivation, which comes with getting a job, no matter what. You just have to know where to go.”

Alcona’s Marco D’Orazio found two part-time jobs this summer.

“It’s not hard to look for a job,” he said, noting plans to use his summer income to pay for gasoline and car insurance. “There are places that are always hiring.”

On Jan. 1, as part of a series of changes to the Employment Standards Act, Ontario’s minimum wage increased from $11.60 per hour to $14.

Along with a hike in the general minimum wage, the student rate jumped from $10.70 to $13.15, and the liquor servers’ wage went from $9.90 to $12.20.

Leading up to the bump, there was speculation an increase would affect the number of seasonal jobs available to students, with Ontario Convenience Stores Association CEO Dave Bryans suggesting the wage increase would “undoubtedly mean fewer retail jobs, particularly for students and other part-time workers.”

According to Statistics Canada, Ontario’s unemployment rate has remained relatively stable in recent months, climbing from 5.5 per cent in December 2017 to 5.7 per cent in June. Barrie’s has fluctuated greatly, though, going from 3.4 per cent in December to 6.9 in June, leaving the city with one of the highest unemployment rates in Canada.

However, counsellors at the Simcoe County District School Board’s Career Centre say there has been no tangible uptick in requests for service since the wage increase took effect.

“(We’re) not seeing an increase or decrease in the number of vacant postings, so no difference from the increase,” Career Centre co-ordinator Louise Woodrow said. “Employers are still hiring and, in many sectors, they are reporting struggles with getting sufficient applicants in order to fulfil their vacancies. The Career Centre can assess an employer’s eligibility to receive government-funded wage incentives for new hires. There has not been an increase in employers seeking wage incentives since the increase in the minimum wage.”

But there are indications employers aren’t hiring as many seasonal workers, and some small businesses in the food sector have laid off staff. A few retailers, specifically grocery stores, also cut back hours of operation, she said.

It seems job expectations and workloads also increased, while some positions have been consolidated, Woodrow said.

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Barrie Olive Oil owner Denise Tucker retained all 10 employees without dramatically increasing prices.

A few adjustments were made — some shifts are staggered based on peak service times, and she’s approached suppliers about more flexible payment schedules, bulk buying and better box and bottle prices — but the downtown location began operating on Sundays earlier this year. And there are plans to hire six new staffers when the company expands into Newmarket’s Upper Canada Mall this fall.

“It hasn’t changed too much for us; we had very minimal price increases, but we didn’t implement them on Jan. 1,” she said. “I started creating efficiencies in July of last year, knowing this was coming. It doesn’t matter what the government says: I would love to pay everyone twice what they’re making. But we’re a three-year-old business that’s still trying to grow. The owner does some sacrificing. I get paid what I get paid and that hasn’t changed in three years.”

Tucker said she makes less income than some of her employees and admits any expectation that people can live off minimum wage is unrealistic and “disgusting.”  

Each staffer received a pay bump this year, regardless of what they were making prior to Jan. 1. But she’s also added to their responsibilities and reduced employee incentives.

Tucker warned consumers should be prepared to pay higher prices and see reduced services at other businesses.

“You try to make decisions based on keeping your consumer and employee,” she said. “It’s a balance.”

While many businesses adjusted operations in recent months, area food banks have yet to feel the pinch.  

“When it first happened, we heard a couple of stories of people being laid off,” Barrie Food Bank community relations manager Michelle Simons said. “Whether that was because of the increase of not, we’re not sure. But since that time, we haven’t heard anything or seen differences in our numbers (compared to last year).”

Innisfil Community Church’s Rev. Howard Courtney agrees.

“We’ve been pretty consistent here,” said Courtney, who operates the food bank out of the church.

In May, the Innisfil facility provided food boxes to 62 families. In June, 61 were assisted, and the facility is aiming for the same target in July, he said.

New Midland high school won’t be ready for September

The new Georgian Bay District Secondary School will not meet its September opening.

“At this point, the target is not to move into in the fall,” said Sarah Kekewich, manager of communications for the Simcoe County District School Board.

Students will be returning to the old high school in September.

Kim Pickett, manager of design and construction for the board, said a move-in date hasn’t been finalized.

“Once it’s ready, we will make an announcement and have a move-in process. We will try to do that at a school break if it’s ahead of the end of the school year,” she said.

The move will be done all at once, rather than staggered to finished parts of the building.

“We find it less confusing that way,” said Pickett.

The new high school is being built at on what was the athletic field of the old Midland Secondary School.

The Midland school was renamed in September 2016 when students from Midland and Penetanguishene secondary schools were merged and Penetanguishene Secondary School was closed. The name Georgian Bay will stand when the new school opens.

The school will be 12,873 square metres (138,564 square feet) and will accommodate 984 students. The GBDSS website listed the population of the existing school to be 807.

The groundbreaking for the new school was held in early June, 2016 and construction started that September. It was scheduled to open September 2018.

The election of Premier Doug Ford will not affect the construction, said Pickett.

“We were fully approved and funded before we put a shovel in the ground,” she said.

Similar to other new secondary school builds, the new high school will have specialized areas for hospitality and cosmetology and have a double gym.

“It’s going to be more modern than what was there before. The design is making efficient use of space,” Pickett said.

The consulting team includes Allen and Sherriff Architects Inc., DEI & Associates Inc., Stephenson Engineering Ltd. and WMI & Associates Ltd.

Once the school is open, the old building will be demolished, said Pickett.

North Simcoe municipalities attempting to address horrible Internet speeds

Some local councillors worry the below average Internet speeds in North Simcoe are negatively impacting the region’s ability to attract new business.

A recent broadband analysis revealed what many in the area already know — local access to high-quality high-speed internet is few and far between.

“There is a huge amount of businesses that won’t relocate to our area because they have researched this and found out we don’t have the download capacity (they need) and so they decide not to relocate here,” said Midland Coun. George MacDonald.

In 2011 the CRTC said all Canadians should have access to minimum download speeds of five Mbps and upload speeds of one Mbps. In 2016 this standard changed and minimum speeds of 50 Mbps and upload speeds of 10 Mbps are now considered the basic level that should be available to all Canadians.

In north Simcoe, more than 94 per cent of commercial buildings don’t have access to this basic high-speed internet, with 21 per cent not having access to even the 2011 standards.

“It is not that high speed is not available. It’s that it’s cost prohibitive for some commercial businesses to bring in the level of service they require,” said Chris McLaughlin, of North Simcoe Community Futures Development Corporation. “Depending on the commercial building and its location the costs can be quite significant in having the service brought in.”

McLaughlin says running fibre optic cable costs a minimum of $5,000 per kilometre and that doesn’t include engineering and other associated costs. With fibre infrastructure lacking in the region some business might have to run cable a long way to connect to a fibre network.

“It is almost a given that a business is going to require internet conductivity that is reliable and provides the ability for them to download or upload as much information as they need,” said McLaughlin. “It’s important to have the infrastructure in place to reduce the cost of getting fibre to commercial buildings.”

North Simcoe Community Futures Development Corporation partnered with the Midland, Penetanguishene, Tay, Tiny and Beausoleil First Nation to carry out the recent analysis and collected data that paints a detailed picture of the quality of internet in the region.

The current picture isn’t pretty, with Internet speeds on Beausoleil First Nation ranking second last in all of Canada.

More than 88 per cent of residents across the region don’t have access to basic high-speed internet. Of those, 22 per cent of permanent residents and 33 per cent of seasonal residents don’t even have access to the 2011 standards.

“We rely upon our Internet and I think increasingly high-speed is what is going to drive the economy,” said Midland Mayor Gord McKay. “We have a lot of work to do to get ourselves up to a modern standard.”

All five local communities rank in the bottom 25th percentile in the country for high speed internet connectivity. Out of 168 communities, Midland ranked 113, Tay sits 127, Penetanguishene is 130 and Tiny is 158.

“We were a little surprised at the level of residents who don’t have the infrastructure available to get the 50 mbps download speed,” said McLaughlin. “Some of the technology in the area is dated and doesn’t even have the capacity to reach that level.”

He suggested local councils work with developers to ensure fibre infrastructure is in place for any new developments.

“(High speed internet) is as important as your streets and your sewers. It’s key infrastructure municipalities need to keep themselves competitive,” said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin plans to use the local data as the foundation for funding applications in hopes of seeking out grants for broadband infrastructure projects.

Organizations such as SWIFT (Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology Network) and the federally funded Connect to Innovate have funding specifically set aside for broadband infrastructure projects.

“We have identified where our broadband gaps are … and we want to be able to present north Simcoe as a viable first phase through SWIFT,” said McLaughlin.

The CRTC is in the process of setting up a $750 million fund over five years to support infrastructure projects in areas that currently don’t meet the basic standard. The goal is to get 90 per cent of communities in Canada access to download speeds of 50 Mbps and download speeds of 10 Mbps by the end of 2021.

“The CRTC shouldn’t be moving to target to 2021 now, they should be looking at the end of 2018,” said MacDonald. “Businesses are not going to wait until 2021. They are making decisions today.”

Officials are planning on meeting in September to discuss next steps and continue efforts to improve broadband infrastructure in the region.

“This is great data and it will be very important over the next few years in trying to increase high speed internet for both commercial and residential,” said Coun. Jonathan Main.


Scathing report finds Adjala-Tos councillor harassed planner, broke code of conduct

For the second time in less than a month, an integrity investigation has found Adjala-Tosorontio Coun. Floyd Pinto guilty of breaking council’s code of conduct.

The report prepared by Harold Elston of Elston Watt Barristers and Solicitors also found Pinto guilty of harassing the township’s director of planning, Jacquie Tschekalin, who initiated the investigation after making formal complaints about Pinto and Coun. Bob Meadows earlier this year.

The complaints about Meadows will be dealt with in a separate report.

The report recommends reprimanding Pinto for “having injured the reputation of staff and for having causes harassment in the workplace” by removing him from the role as the chair of the land use planning and development committee.

The investigator came to his conclusion after conducting extensive interviews with both parties and witnesses. He also reviewed Pinto’s blog posts, newsletters and emails, and evidence he provided at the Ontario Municipal Board hearing for the Everett gravel pit appeal.

Tschekalin, who has worked at the township since 2010, alleged the councillors of making defamatory statements about her over the past several years aimed at “undermining her professional credibility.”

“These activities are creating an intolerable, toxic workplace environment and placing my professional credibility in jeopardy; the harassment needs to stop,” she wrote.

Tschekalin accused Pinto of providing false and misleading information to the public on a number of issues, such as the Colgan development, the gravel pit and various other planning matters.

While a number of the complaints predated the code of conduct being passed in June 2016, the investigator said he was “entitled to consider a pattern of behavior.”

When reached for comment, Pinto said he wasn’t given enough specifics about the allegations and was under the impression he would be meeting with the investigator again before the report was made public.

But in his report, Elston said Pinto “was provided sufficient details.”

The report notes that Pinto, who was first election in 2010 and is currently running for mayor, stopped speaking to Tschekalin for about 3.5 years ago.

During the investigation, Pinto raised a number of concerns with Elston. Pinto complained about residents not getting answers at public meetings, along with other issues, like him not getting technical documents and meeting minutes when requested.

According to Elston, Pinto believes people have the perception that the planner “is not taking up their cause” and that “they come to him for answers.”

He said Pinto also denied ever saying she was wrong, but said “at every meeting the public has questions that the complainant (Tschekalin) won’t answer.”

As part of the evidence submission, Elston said the treatment Tschekalin has received from Pinto “has been a source of dismay and frustration for several years.”

In November 2015, she wrote a letter to Pinto to express the concerns and asked to him make sure everything he was writing in his blog and flyers was correct, and to stop making false accusations about the performance of her duties as the planner.

She asked him to keep the letter confidential, but Pinto ignored the request and posted it to his blog.

Pinto’s close association with Concerned Citizens of Adjala-Tosorontio, a residents group opposed to the gravel pit, is also noted in the report.

“The complainant knew of Councillor Pinto’s position and his connection to the CCAT, but felt it was her job to render an objective, professional opinion, notwithstanding Councillor Pinto’s opposition to the Nelson (gravel pit) proposal,” wrote Elston.

Since the Nelson issue, Tschekalin said she believes Pinto thinks that “everything she says or does is wrong.”

“In connection with these, as well as several other more minor matters, the complainant feels that she has been under attack by Coun. Pinto,” wrote Elston. “He has consistently, in public, argued with the complainant and asserted that her facts and opinions are wrong. It is, in her words, much beyond simply irritating.”

Tschekalin told Elston that Pinto is known to “misstate or misrepresent the true status of developments, the township’s procedures, or her responses to the public, in order to undermine her opinion, and often, council’s position, to advance his private agenda.”

Tschekalin described a meeting with Pinto in her office, where he allegedly told her “he didn’t care about her professional planning opinion, because he was a professional councillor.”

She also accused him trying to blindside her at meetings by not asking for information beforehand.

“Over the past few years, Councillor Pinto no longer comes to talk to staff to understand the background and applicable policies concerning an issue or community concern, but instead, he raises the matter directly at a meeting of council, taking staff and their fellow councillors off guard,” Elston wrote. “Last minute items are added to the agenda and council meeting have become theatre.”

Tschekalin told the investigator she is “unable to sleep” and has been “made sick by the stress”, which has “reduced her effectiveness.”

And when Pinto doesn’t get his way, Tschekalin said he resorts to his blog.

“There is never a positive or constructive solution offered,” Elston wrote. “Morale has declined and staff at all levels are disenchanted with the dysfunction of council. Good people have left and more will be leaving.”

Pinto was also accused of being “openly disrespectful” to the mayor and other women in management positions.

To read the full report

Council will vote on the recommendations of the report at a special meeting taking place Monday, July 9 at 5:30 p.m.


Correction

In the July 26 edition of the Herald, the story “Oddballs take centre stage at annual Georgian Bay Steam Show” contained an error. One of the featured tractors in this year’s event, happening Aug. 3 to 6 in Cookstown, is actually the Minneapolis Moline, along with other rare brands. The story misquoted 2018 feature chair Jeff Blaney. The Herald regrets the error.