Labour Minister Christina Gray watches worker Shawn Mohammed make her donair after speaking with co-owner Adil Asim of Prime Time Donair & Kabab, to discuss recent changes to Alberta's employment standards in downtown Edmonton, January 23, 2018. Ed Kaiser/PostmediaEd Kaiser Ed Kaiser / Ed Kaiser/Postmedia

It won’t go down in Alberta political history as the gaffe on which turned the as-yet-uncalled 2019 provincial election.

But, to my mind, the Rachel Notley government pounded some final nails into its coffin this past Tuesday.

Labour Minister Christina Gray deliberately snubbed an emergency meeting here in Edmonton, called by the Restaurants Canada association and entitled “Restaurant Realities: Raising Our Voice In Alberta.”

Gray was scheduled to speak, alongside opposition party leaders Jason Kenney and Stephen Mandel who did address the restaurant-owner crowd. But Gray’s office informed the organizers the day before that Gray had to attend to a “pressing matter.”

Which was nonsense. Later on Tuesday, Gray said she ducked the event because she considered it an “anti-worker campaign.”


Good Lord, on what planet does this New Democrat government live?

Restaurants Canada has no ideological bent. It is not anti-anybody.

It represents its members, and in Alberta, its members are barely keeping their doors open because of the steady, stifling economic downturn and the current government’s attempt to “improve” working conditions … which has boomeranged in the worst of ways.

It is readily apparent to anybody with half-a-brain that the new pro-labour policies introduced by the New Democratic government have not worked.

The $15-an-hour minimum wage, holiday pay for hours not worked, and higher employer WCB premiums have not enabled “servers to put dinner on their own table,” as the labour minister so righteously claims.

The new policies have led to the loss of 10,000 Alberta jobs as the industry downsizes because of lower revenues and higher government-imposed labour costs.

Other Canadian provinces and American states, while increasing minimum wage levels, have realistically maintained a  lower “alcohol servers’ wage” which recognizes the fact that tips add $10 to $30 an hour to the pay of servers bringing beers to thirsty customers.

And, recognizing that teenagers are: A) not supporting families and; B) are usually learning on the job, other governments have a lower “teen” wage.

To our New Democrats, all workers are equal. All deserved a rapid raise in the minimum wage from $10 to $15 an hour, no matter their cash tips … of which Revenue Canada need not know the entire amount, right?

Now perhaps those evil restaurant owners, determined to exploit their staff at every turn, could have absorbed these government-imposed cost increases in a buoyant economy.

But everybody in these parts, besides this government, recognizes we’re mired in a long-term, sluggish economy. Gross restaurant receipts are down. Government “workers rights” policies are driving costs up.

Are more jobs being created in the restaurant industry thanks to ND policies? Are you kidding?

Here’s the result of the NDs’ effort to bring social and economic justice to the working class:

• Workshop Eatery owner/chef Paul Shufelt, in his weekly Edmonton Sun column, has fully detailed the costs of running a restaurant in today’s economy and with the new labour regulations. His well-documented conclusion — restaurants are either seriously losing money, or barely breaking even.

• Patrick Saurette of The Marc restaurant, a most reasonable fellow, respected and liked by all, used a colourful but most accurate analogy. Alberta’s new labour reforms, he said, are “a foot on the throats” of restaurant owners already downed by dwindling revenues.

This meeting, to me, personified how out of touch this government is with the real world, how naive and now cynical. It overlooked and now deliberately ignores the unintended and most miserable consequences this legislation has bought upon the average restaurant worker.

To compensate for rising food, labour and operating costs, Alberta restaurants raised their menu prices by an average six per cent in the fall of 2018. While hiking gross receipts to record levels, the price increase, says Restaurants Canada chairman Saurette, was not enough to offset steadily shrinking profit margins.

Jobs have been slashed. Teenagers can’t find work. Professional life-long servers have seen their incomes fall, not rise. Employers can’t afford to help special-needs employees.

Because of overly onerous regulation and labour laws, restaurants are closing. Jobs are not improving, they are vanishing.

And yet this cowardly labour minister refuses to show up, content to sniffle about a fictitious, conspiratorial “anti-worker” campaign.

This government has done a few good things:  Its desire to preserve green spaces and some of its economic development policies are to be lauded.

Overall, this restaurant crisis is yet another example of its naive misunderstanding of how the Alberta economy works.

Prosperity and social well-being are not created by the nanny state and its endless borrowing, but by risk-takers working within supportive government frameworks.

Entrepreneurial necks are being squished by this government’s heavy foot, causing disastrous consequences.

Let judgement be passed. This provincial election can’t come soon enough.

(Regular Hicks on Biz programming was interrupted by this extraordinary business story. Next week, Part II of my series on the Edmonton International Airport as the region’s most successful economic generator:  Growing air-cargo.)