Premier Kathleen Wynne talked tough last week when she accused the owners of two Tim Hortons franchises of bullying after they cut back employees' benefits in response to Ontario's spike in the minimum wage.
Her government upped the ante on Monday, when Labour Minister Kevin Flynn vowed to investigate "bullying behaviour," in particular one Tim Hortons franchise accused of making employees turn in their tips, which is illegal.
But while some might applaud the Liberal government for standing up for the little guy in the face of greedy employers – who in the case last week made for a juicy target by being the wealthy heirs to the founders of Tim Hortons – the bullying accusation is, in fact, an insult to small-business owners.
Ms. Wynne, faced with dismal approval ratings and the near-guarantee of a general-election loss this spring, is trying to win favour with voters by raising the minimum wage.
But rather than taking a measured approach, she is hiking the minimum by almost one third in the space of 18 months, with no thought to the consequences.
She announced in May that the then-hourly rate of $11.40 would rise to $14 six months later, on Jan. 1, and then go to $15 on the first day of 2019.
We would very much like to see Ms. Wynne handle a legislated 32-per-cent increase in government wages over 18 months. She no doubt would resort to borrowing, thanks to the ability of governments to operate budget deficits.
But small businesses don't have that luxury. A drastic rise in wages must be met with an equal response. Stealing tips isn't acceptable, but raising prices or cutting employee benefits and hours, or a combination of both, is an acceptable response – regardless of the personal wealth of the employer.
We've said before that minimum-wage increases are necessary and fair. In the long run, the new rates in Ontario will be absorbed into the economy.
But Ms. Wynne acted irresponsibly by jacking the rate so quickly in her hour of political need. If some small-business owners are obliged to cut benefits and hours to make ends meet, that's on her. She ought to take responsibility, but she prefers to demonize the very people who have to muddle through the disruption she caused.