The owner of four restaurants in rural midwestern Ontario says at least two of them will close if the province goes ahead with its plan to raise the minimum wage.

Ontario’s minimum wage currently sits at $11.40 per hour. It is expected to rise to $11.60 in October, $14 in January and $15 in January 2019.

Bob McAulay owns four locations of the Pizza Delight chain. He says the increase would wipe out the profit margins at two or three of his restaurants.

“Somebody has to pay for it, and they don’t seem to be looking at that aspect of it,” he said in an interview.

McAulay says he has already put a renovation at one restaurant on hold because of the financial difficulties he expected to be running into.

“We’d love to pay our staff $20, $30 an hour – we just can’t afford to do it,” he said.

“We give them as much as we can.”

In addition to the higher minimum wage, the province’s Bill 148 calls for part-time employees to be paid the same as their full-time counterparts, all employees to receive emergency leave – including up to two paid days of emergency leave per year – and changes to rules around unions, scheduling and vacation entitlements.

A series of public hearings on the bill are being held across the province. Tuesday was Kitchener’s turn, with politicians, business owners and social service agencies all voicing their opinions on the proposals.

Linda Terry, the executive director of the Social Planning Council of Cambridge & North Dumfries, spoke in favour of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

“It certainly will assist people in our communities who are now living at minimum wage, which is below the poverty line,” she said.

Darren Drouillard spoke on behalf of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce. He said he had heard from business owners that the minimum wage increase itself was “not a major concern” in Cambridge, but that there were concerns over how soon it was being implemented, as well as with some of the other proposals.

Drouillard argued that the province should commission an independent economic review of the issue before it carries its plan forward.

“At the end of the day, we don’t know if this will be beneficial or detrimental to the people of Ontario,” he told CTV News.

Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris, a Progressive Conservative, echoed that opinion.

“They haven’t had the time or the notice to prepare for some of these drastic changes,” he said.

“It’s too big of a hit, too fast.”

Daiene Vernile, the Liberal MPP for Kitchener Centre, said that while she understands why business owners might be concerned about Bill 148, she has heard from social service agencies and other organizations that it will be an effective way to help the 30 per cent of people in Ontario currently earning less than $15 per hour.

“They’re living at a poverty level, and we want to see that eliminated,” she said.

With reporting by Marc Venema