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Ontario minimum wage rises, youth pharmacare takes effect Jan 1

TORONTO — The minimum wage in Ontario rises to $14 an hour and people younger than 25 can get free prescription medications as of Jan. 1, when a host of other legal and regulatory changes in the province take effect.

The new minimum wage is part of a Liberal government promise to boost it further to $15 in 2019, though if the Progressive Conservatives win the June election, the increase to $15 will be spread out over several years.

It’s the main plank of a series of major labour reforms announced this year by the government. Jan. 1 will also see all employees get 10 days of personal emergency leave per year — two of them paid — for which they won’t be required to show their employers a doctor’s note.

All employees will get three weeks of paid vacation after they have been with a company for five years, and can get up to 17 weeks off — one week paid — when they or their child has experienced or is threatened with domestic or sexual violence.

If an employee needs to care for a family member, unpaid family medical leave is increasing to 28 weeks a year, up from eight weeks in half a year. And parents whose children die can take two years of job-protected, unpaid leave. It was previously only offered to parents when a child’s death was related to a crime.

The labour changes also increase fines under the Employment Standards Act and Labour Relations Act.

Youth pharmacare will mean that anyone under 25 in Ontario will have free access to more than 4,400 prescription medications with no co-pay or deductible.

Other health changes taking effect Jan. 1 include banning smoking on the outdoor grounds of hospitals, psychiatric facilities and certain Ontario government properties, and allowing long-term care homes to designate “reunification priority access beds” to ensure spouses or partners can stay together.

The age of protection is also being raised to 18, meaning 16- and 17-year-olds will be able to receive the full range of child protection services.

On Jan. 1 rewards points will no longer expire solely based on how much time has passed since they were earned, deposit protections for people who buy newly built homes will be expanded, and municipalities will be able to restrict where payday loan shops can open and how many can operate in a given area.

Ontario’s cap-and-trade market, the system aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions, will be linked with Quebec and California’s joint carbon market as of Jan. 1, though the first joint auction isn’t expected until the end of February.

As a way to further try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all new commercial office buildings or workplaces with indoor parking will be required to install electric vehicle charging stations.

Small businesses will see their corporate income tax rate cut from 4.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent. The government has also placed a new requirement on itself, to remove $1.25 in regulatory costs to businesses for every $1 in new administrative costs that are added. As well, businesses will be able to electronically submit any required document to the government instead of doing it by paper.

The City of Toronto will be able to impose a vacant homes property tax and the finance minister will be able to allow other municipalities to do so as well.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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