Kathleen Wynne

By Jessica Smith Cross and Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

Toronto: Ontario will increase minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next 18 months as part of sweeping changes to labour laws, the province’s Liberal government announced Tuesday, satisfying a long-standing demand of left-leaning voters one year away from an election.

The minimum wage increase was the centrepiece of a slew of reforms Premier Kathleen Wynne revealed in a campaign-style setting, including ensuring equal pay for part-time workers, increasing vacation entitlements and expanding personal emergency leave.

Wynne, whose party has been faring poorly in recent polls, said the changes, along with a number of her government’s recent announcements, are her plan for a fair society.

“Our plan takes dead aim at the challenges that confront us in this new, uncertain world,” she said, citing the Liberals’ pharmacare plan, a basic income pilot project, 100,000 new child-care spaces, and a plan to cool the housing market.

“It puts fairness at the heart of all we do.”

Ontario’s minimum wage increase will be phased-in gradually. It will rise, as scheduled, with inflation from $11.40 currently to $11.60 in October. Then, the government plans to bump it up to $14 an hour on Jan. 1, 2018 and $15 the following year.

Ten per cent of Ontario workers currently make the minimum wage, Wynne said, and 30 per cent make less than $15 an hour.

“That’s millions of people, many of them supporting a family on a wage that just doesn’t go far enough,” she said. “They’re raising children, saving up for their education, wondering if they’ll ever be able to get ahead on the monthly budget, let alone own a home.”

Before the minimum wage increase to $15, however, there will be an election in June 2018.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who has long pushed for a $15 minimum wage, suggested the Liberal government is only introducing the wage raise now to shore up votes for next year.

“I think it’s clear to the people of Ontario that for Liberals it’s always about them,” she said. “It’s always about them and their own political fortunes and what works for them politically, while for 14 years they’ve done nothing to address the erosion of people’s standard of living.”

Wynne also detailed plans to ensure part-time workers will get equal pay for doing work equal to full-time staff, and said that workers will be able to get three weeks of paid vacation a year after five years with a company, instead of two weeks.

The proposed changes are in response to a government-commissioned report released last week that included 173 recommendations addressing precarious work.