Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne visited Hart House on March 1, delivering a keynote address and participating in a moderated discussion hosted by the Hart House Debates & Dialogues Committee. The event was largely focused on student-related subjects.
The discussion and Q&A period with the audience, led by Debates & Dialogue Committee student chair Aceel Hawa, focused on the province’s minimum wage increase and issues of mental health.
During her address, Wynne emphasized the significance of publicly funded education, which she described as “the most important” government responsibility. “I’m in politics because I believe that there is inherent unfairness in our world — that’s a reality that we deal with,” she said. “I came into politics because of my deep commitment to publicly funded education.”
Wynne also spoke to the controversial decision to increase the minimum wage to $15 by January 2019. The change, she said, was balanced with a decrease in small business taxes from 4.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent as well as youth hiring subsidies. She added that the minimum wage change is closer to providing a living wage for GTA workers and was instituted during an opportune time of economic growth.
Audience members expressed concern that the government had failed to deal with employers sidestepping the minimum wage increase by cutting worker benefits and breaks. In response, Wynne said the number of Ministry of Labour inspectors visiting businesses had been increased to ensure that improvements for workers would materialize.
“The vast majority of employers are following and complying with the law, but we’re very determined to make sure that happens,” said Wynne. “If we find that it’s not, we’ll move ahead with making more changes.”
Another topic addressed by Wynne during the Q&A session was mental health. She said that the government had a clear plan to put more money into support on campus and in the community. “You will see, as we move forward, we are going to make more investments to provide more practitioners, more places for people to go to find mental health supports.”
The Premier’s visit was part of a series of town hall-style events that have recently focused on issues relevant to postsecondary students. The province will take to the polls in a general election in June 2018.