Brunch business is brisk at The Ruby on Johnson Street in Victoria Wednesday morning.
But signs of trouble in the industry are everywhere, as numerous restaurants across the region shut their doors over the past few months.
“I’m unfortunately not surprised. It’s very sad to see, but I don’t think the worst is over either,” said The Ruby co-owner Chris Jones.
Jones says one of the biggest challenges is inflation, which is pushing food costs up more than 11 per cent.
“To put that on our menu is $2, so we’d be adding $2 to a $20 plate of food and I don’t think doing that year over year is sustainable,” he said.
It’s the main reason the Marina Restaurant in Oak Bay is closings its doors after 30 years. Its owners are citing economic challenges arising from inflation as the driving cause.
The Marina is one of several long-time restaurants recently announcing closures. And while the reasons behind each vary, industry leaders say on top of inflation and exhaustion, another critical issue is the labour shortage and the lengthy bureaucratic waits to bring in temporary foreign workers.
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“It’s not a question of people not wanting to work in construction or restaurants,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association.
“It’s that we don’t have enough people in B.C., so, therefore, we need immigration, and therefore we should embrace these and be the most competitive province in all of Canada, and we’re not, we’re number ten,” he said.
“If you’re in Alberta, you can get a worker in five months. In B.C., it’s at least 10 months.”
For Chris Jones, it’s not been months but years.
“We waited three years for our first three employees and we’re currently waiting for our next four,” he said.
Part of the problem is a backlog in getting approval from the province before the application can even be sent to the federal government.
“They could relax this requirement and get rid of the backlog. They could tell the federal government to go ahead and process immigration while the B.C. government catches up with its paperwork,” added Tostenson.
Previously, the Ministry of Labour told CHEK News that it’s working to speed up the system.
As part of Budget 2023, it’ll spend nearly $12 million over three years to hire 33 new full-time employees in the Employment Standards Branch to address growing demand, including a surge in applications for temporary foreign workers.