Many of Ottawa's small businesses, already battered by the transit strike and economic slowdown, will have to absorb another financial hit at the end of March when the Ontario minimum wage rises 75 cents to $9.50 per hour.

The Liberal government's 2007 budget introduced measures to boost the minimum wage beyond $10 by 2010. Anti-poverty groups want to go further and immediately implement an $11 wage.

But business owners are worried the increase will cause more harm than good.

Stanley Devine, who owns Dunn's Deli, says that when the minimum wage rises, the rest of his staff wants an increase.

"What's going to happen is everybody is going to have to raise their prices," says Devine. "The person who is going to suffer is the worker, because the restaurateur, if it's not too busy (will) let them go."

Danniel Oickle, who has served Dunn's smoked meat sandwiches for eight years, makes $8.75 per hour - the current minimum wage. But he's afraid the additional expense will make smaller employers tighten their hiring.

'They might start laying people off and I'd sooner have a job than a pay increase," says Oickle.

Aside from Nunavut, Ontario already has Canada's highest minimum wage. Several other provinces plan to increase their wages in 2009, but Alberta may consider holding off until economic conditions improve.

"Right now governments are scrambling to find ways to take pressure off consumers and business," says Garth Whyte of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

"This is a 'last year' policy that puts pressure on businesses that are hurting already."

Andy Huang, who owns Yangming Buffet on Merivale Road, has already reduced staff and increased his own hours to compensate for the OC Transpo strike and the recession. He says he can't afford another financial hit.

"Everything is falling apart," Huang told CTV Ottawa. "The rent increase, the supplier increase by 20 to 30 per cent; (it's) very tough nowadays to stay in business."

With a report from CTV Ottawa's Joanne Schnurr