Major changes to labour laws in Ontario, including a higher minimum wage, were debated at a public hearing in Ottawa Wednesday at the Courtyard Mariott.

Owners of small businesses in the region say the proposed increase could force them to lay off staff. Paul Murphy from Calabogie Peaks says in their case, it would mean cutting 15 percent of employees, which amounts to about 10 people.

“This has come on way too fast and the magnitude is too much for us to deal with,” Murphy said.  

Currently, minimum wage earners in the province make $11.40 an hour. Under Bill 148 workers would make $14 an hour by January and $15 by 2019.

It’s a timeline Ontario’s Attorney General, Yasir Naqvi, defends.

“We want to make sure that these very important benefits around providing support for our families take place as soon as possible, so we feel an increase from $11.40 to $11.60 in October as was originally planned, and then to 14 dollars January first and eventually 15 dollars by beginning of 2019 is the right transition.”

The Ontario Government also promises to give workers more vacation time, and offer equal pay opportunities to part-time employees.

Those in favour of the changes rallied outside the hotel to show their support.

 “People shouldn’t have to work three jobs to make a living, or just to pay one extra bill,” said Laxy Saunthararajan, an advocate for workers.

Ontario's legislative committee will travel this week to Thunder Bay, North Bay, Ottawa, Kingston and Windsor, and next week to London, Kitchener, Niagara Falls, Hamilton and Toronto.