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.


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.


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