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the pizza chef: Summit on the Hill


December 2, 2011
By Diana Coutu

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The CRFA organized our first National Restaurant Industry Summit on
Parliament Hill on Oct. 18. Fifty delegates representing top independent
and chain restaurants from across Canada flew to Ottawa to meet with
MPs and let them know how important our industry really is to Canada.

The CRFA organized our first National Restaurant Industry Summit on Parliament Hill on Oct. 18. Fifty delegates representing top independent and chain restaurants from across Canada flew to Ottawa to meet with MPs and let them know how important our industry really is to Canada.

Food and agriculture policy received a great deal of attention from politicians of all stripes during the recent federal election. Although the economic and employment contributions of restaurants exceed those of agriculture and all supplier groups, the restaurant industry is treated as secondary in food policy discussions. Similarly, although over 50 per cent of the jobs in the tourism industry exist in restaurants, which is by far the largest chunk of the tourism job pie, the restaurant industry is an afterthought in Canada’s tourism strategy.

Canada’s restaurant and foodservice industry is one of the largest industries in the Canadian economy, with annual sales of $63 billion. More than one million Canadians are proudly employed by the restaurant industry, making it one of the largest private-sector employers. The industry’s workforce represents 6.4 per cent of the country’s employment, more people than agriculture, forestry, automotive manufacturing, mining and oil and gas extraction combined. An additional 210,000 Canadians are indirectly employed by the industry as suppliers, distributors and consultants.

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The industry is more than a huge contributor to the Canadian economy and a major job creator. It is at the heart of what Canada is about: food, youth, multiculturalism, agriculture, health and community.

Our group of 50 delegates broke into smaller groups and met with several MPs throughout the day. We discussed some of the challenges we are facing on labour shortage, supply management, payroll taxes, credit card fees on sales taxes and the disparity between taxes applied on food at restaurants and those applied on food at grocery stores. I participated in two meetings and felt that we were far better received at the first meeting than at the second. Minister Steven Fletcher was a gracious host as he listened to our concerns and even gave us suggestions to further our cause. During the second meeting, however, a different minister was dismissive and even downright rude at one point, interrupting me mid-sentence and stating that I was whining about the two-tiered cheese price policy where frozen pizza manufacturers are given access to dairy cheese at 30 per cent lower cost than what fresh pizza makers pay. Another independent restaurant owner at this meeting stated that it was difficult not to feel slighted when the Ontario government handed a $7-million grant to a German frozen pizza manufacturer because it was going to create 150 new jobs and source local product, whereas this fellow already employs 300 people and has been sourcing local ingredients for years. He brought up the fact that all of his meals are taxed and remitted to the government, whereas the frozen pizza industry is exempt from taxes on food and therefore do not contribute on the same scale as we do.

At the end of the day when our large group gathered again to debrief each other on our day, what we heard again and again was how each MP needs to hear from us more than once a year.

I’m sure many of you owner/operators feel that talking to your member of Parliament is a lost cause, but it may surprise you to find that not all MPs will turn a deaf ear. I know you’re all very busy with the day-to-day operations of your pizzerias, but you should be aware of how important our industry is to Canada’s economy. And you should be reminding your MPs and members of your provincial government about this fact. I urge you to find a moment to write a quick note or e-mail to your local MP and/or member of provincial government, introducing yourselves and telling them a little about your restaurant. The best suggestion I can give is to keep it short and simple. If you want to bring up a challenge, focus on one at a time. Members of Parliament, like us, are very busy individuals and don’t have time to read a 12-page memo or letter. Break it down into two to three sentences to describe your challenge, then two to three sentences to present a solution. Finally, it never hurts to invite your MP to dine at your establishment. These are the people who influence and change policies, and staying in touch is the best way to make sure they remember us and recognize the importance of our industry.



Diana Coutu is a two-time Canadian Pizza magazine chef of the year champion, internationally recognized gourmet pizzaiolo, co-owner of Diana’s Gourmet Pizzeria in Winnipeg, Man., and a board of director for the CRFA. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is also a consultant to other pizzeria owner/operators in menu development, creating systems to run a pizzeria on autopilot, along with marketing and positioning to help operators grow their business effectively and strategically. She is available for consulting on a limited basis, for more information contact her at Diana@dianasgourmetpizzeria.ca.