These guys would be out of luck if they served any booze, at least if Restaurants Canada gets its was (Photo: West Chester State Normal School, 1922).

Alberta’s perpetually dissatisfied restaurant owners find themselves in such difficult straits they’re investing their hard-earned dollars in a high-profile PR campaign to make sure we all understand just how tough they have it – and while they’re at it, maybe they can get us to elect a right-wing government that will roll back that $15 per hour minimum wage they’re so unhappy about.

This morning, Restaurants Canada, the industry’s national lobby, will launch the campaign at a Calgary restaurant where, you can bet on it, the wait staff will be pressed, spit-shined and ready to explain why they don’t need no stinkin’ $15 every time they work an hour.

And these waiters would be out of luck for sure in the same circumstances (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

“The campaign sheds light on the difficult realities restaurants are facing in Alberta and how restaurateurs are in desperate need of relief from a perfect storm of legislative and regulatory changes,” says a media alert sent out by the organization’s public relations counsel.

Even without the media alert, though, it should be obvious Alberta’s restaurant lobby has enlisted the help of competent public relations professionals. Leastways, the tone of their latest campaign is designed to persuade you, dear readers, that their policy proposals – viz., graduated minimum wages with lower rates for young workers and liquor servers, lower standards for overtime pay, less pay for working holidays, and so on – are for the good of us all, not just the pride and pocketbooks of restaurant owners.

This is a change from the shrill tone that characterized the industry’s reaction to the plan by the NDP Government led by Premier Rachel Notley to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour in several steps that was introduced soon after the party’s election in May 2015. That included warnings many restaurants would soon close (few if any ever did) and that 3 a.m. fast food was doomed to perish from the earth (it didn’t).

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The $15-per-hour minimum wage was finally implemented last year, and at the time Opposition Leader Jason Kenney told his backers he wouldn’t roll it back.

But yesterday, with the lobby group’s campaign booting up, he appeared to backslide on that pledge, telling participants in a Restaurants Canada event in Edmonton he’d consider lower minimum wages for young workers and people who serve booze. His comments were accompanied by a characteristic little parable about the waiters he talks to, and how they’re not all that enthusiastic about the NDP’s higher minimum wage.

“The NDP raising wages during the middle of a recession, including on teenagers in entry-level positions, was a massive job killer,” Mr. Kenney claimed while talking to reporters, although there is precious little evidence to support that assertion, and some to say it’s wrong.

Speaking at the Rotary Club of Calgary, Premier Notley called Mr. Kenney’s two-tiered revisionism “a massive, massive loophole through which we can expect many employers to drop through at the expense of workers.”

“It should come as no surprise,” she added, “that roughly two-thirds of those workers who will lose out through this policy announcement made today are women.”

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Restaurants Canada was founded in 1944 as the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association to oppose wartime measures by the government of prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, such as rationing and menu price-controls to aid the desperate fight against Nazi Germany, when they cut into restaurateurs’ profits.

Just how much the Alberta restaurant owners are spending on this campaign is not immediately clear. (I’ve asked the question, and I’ll get back to you if I get an answer.) Their electoral program, however, is explicit, as is their right, judging from what their spokesman said on CBC Radio yesterday. The organization is registered as a third-party election advertiser.

As reported in this space back in 2014, Restaurants Canada is part of a group of well-financed organizations with many connections among one another and a history of advocating for anti-union legislation, low wages and the use of foreign workers over Canadians.

At the time, Mr. Kenney was the federal minister of employment and Restaurants Canada was at the forefront of a campaign demanding that he drop a plan to reduce TFW numbers, which had been reluctantly introduced by the Harper Government in the face of public revulsion at the program’s apparent goals of exploiting vulnerable foreign workers and suppressing Canadian wages.

Many of the same claims were trotted out then about the impact of restricted access to TFWs as are now being made about the effect of laws requiring a higher minimum wage and fair treatment of restaurant workers.

This web of anti-union advocacy groups also includes the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Workplace Democracy Institute of Canada, “Working Canadians,” the Canadian Labour Watch Association, and the Merit Contractors Association, which is also now a third-party advertiser supporting the UCP.

The Alberta Election Commissioner has ruled that the CTF also acted as a third-party advertiser without registering as required by law, but that organization has not paid its fine and says it intends to challenge the $6,000 administrative penalty in the courts.

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  1. As the usual right-wing Astroturf suspects line up behind the UCP for added support, it would behoove interested parties with a stake in this issue to actually look at the facts, instead of relying on the mendacious claims of the restaurant mobsters.

    This from ATB Financial, which monitors economic activity in the province: “In July, Albertans continued their love of eating out and spent a record amount at bars and restaurants. According to Statistics Canada, total receipts rang in at $799 million. Over the last complete 12 months, total receipts are up nearly three per cent compared to the previous 12 month period.” (see link below)

    NO surprise finding Jason Kenney once again making the case for lower wages. Hosing minimum wage workers to prop up the ‘bosses’ is so UCP. What kind of political madman wants to punish vulnerable working people (the majority of them women and single moms) by limiting their wages because greedy businesses refuse to innovate their business model to cope with small minimum wage increases? Answer: One who’s beholden to bosses — not workers.

  2. I heard a representative of the restaurant lobby group on the radio a few months ago complaining the minimum wage increases were ‘too much, too fast’. The same complaint was made in yesterday’s CBC story:

    A point that needs to be kept in mind is that prior to the NDP raising the minimum wage dramatically, Alberta had the lowest minimum wage in Canada, in spite of having the highest average wages. When questioned about increasing the Alberta minimum wage, PC government members would provide token acknowledgement that the minimum wage needed adjusting, then fall back on their favorite mantra “Now is not the time”.

    My question is, what kind of message were the restaurant lobby groups sending the PCs in 2014? Their ‘too fast’ complaint would have a lot more merit if the problem was not a result of their pre-NDP efforts to keep the minimum wage inappropriately low.

  3. Caught on camera. One of the resturanteers at this Calagary meetup got a less than ideal response when he asked for seconds. Is this a foretaste of what is to come under a UCP gov’t?

  4. While the restaurant lobby is drawing attention to itself, I do hope the topic of ‘house tipping’ will come up. It appears that some restaurant owners are, in effect clawing back the tips their servers are collecting from customers. The links below suggest that owners are greedily seeing servers collect 15% of the meals they serve, and want in on the action, so they are docking half of that tip from the servers’ pay. Worse yet, it comes off whether the server is tipped or not, so it does no good for the customer to refuse to leave a tip.

    The only way for us as consumers to fight this is to not patronize the restaurants that do this. I would love to see legislation requiring restaurants to disclose their house tipping policy.

  5. This libertarian milksop is way past his best-before, if he ever had one. How can we be so stupid that a clown like Jason Kenney can continue to thrive in our midst and at our expense (in more ways than one)? Recycle it at your own risk.

    I know that they had their bonafide scabs too, but why is it that my dad’s generation understood that, in order to contend with the power of organized money, they would be wise to co-ordinate their individual efforts? How about if we ask Jason to explain how it is that “federations” and “associations” are such great thing for the first-job creators and the parasites like him that do their bidding, but no good for the slugs. I don’t get it. Does anybody? Wait a minute. Now I remember: I forgot for a minute that, while the efforts of dad’s generation, and of their dads’ before them, gave us a world where they don’t get to kill us if we stand up to them, we’d never appreciate the gift because they also provided us with the opportunity to grow up stupid. And we took it.

    People of Earth: Give your head a shake.

  6. It used to be that changing positions like this shortly before an election like what Kenney did here would be widely criticized as a flip flop by the mainstream media. However, it seems any party with Conservative in its name is oddly immune from much criticism particularly by the local post media. One might think the hollowed out shells of newspapers are not up to much critical thought anymore, however interestingly they sure still seem to be able to criticize anything and everything the Federal Liberals do. Alternatively, perhaps they are just glad Kenney gave them a glimpse of actual policy and at this point don’t want to discourage Kenney from doing that more. However, I think this policy striptease by Kenney will be fleeting and he will quickly retreat to his more typical policy free bubble zone.

    I suppose we can now add restaurant owners to the Kenney third party cash caravan, which already includes used car dealers. It is an interesting approach to policy, as something apparently subservient to political fundraising.

  7. Out of all the despicable artifacts in Jason (politics is my life) Kenney’s track record? His TFW labour we need, need not be treated as or accorded citizenship. Disgusting! I hope every time that he utters the word values, his tongue erupts in flame!

  8. Maybe Jason Kenney wants to help the Restaurant Owners by taking us back to the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution where businesses could hire child labour, (as low as ten years old) for cheap. I wonder if this is what he means when he says we need to get back to the Alberta Advantage.

  9. Sure, why not let us taxpayers subsidize restaurant workers so the top layers can make bigger profits. Corporate welfare recipients stand behind the UCP and their ilk with their hands out. This is not only happening in restaurants either; they’re just the first (actually the car guys were the first). If it works for them, look out. Would be great if they spent all those campaign contributions on employee wages instead of the Kenny’s of the world.

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