As the final stretch of the provincial election campaign approaches in Québec, we see that the labour shortage has become a central theme in the political debate. Fortunately, one might say. It could not be otherwise since all aspects of our daily lives are currently affected by this crisis. Longer waits, reduced services, higher costs, closures, pressure on employees, supply difficulties – the list of consequences is long for the average Quebecker.
Though, the lack of laborers is not limited to our borders, but Quebec is more severely affected than any of its neighbours. Our population is older, and our demographic curve is steeper than elsewhere. Worse, this situation is expected to last and even worsen for the years to come. Over the next 10 years, we know that the labour force in Ontario will increase by 400,000, while it will decrease by 100,000 in Quebec. It is certainly not by shifting the shortage from one sector to another, in the wake of a wage war pushing inflation up, that we will increase the working population base.
The retail sector is particularly affected by this shortage, with approximately 25,000 positions currently vacant. This sector helps the population access food, clothing, housing, etc. These are essential needs, which are met by more than 480,000 workers throughout Quebec.
This is what we have reiterated in recent months when we met with all five political parties represented at the National Assembly prior to the present electoral campaign. We discussed some of the issues and solutions, stressed the importance of retail trade for Quebec’s economy and our regions, as well as for individual citizens.
The past two years have led to significant changes in consumer needs and habits. Workers and employers have had to be very resilient to cope with the challenges of the changing work environment, deepening labor shortages, persistent inflation and disruptions in supply chains.
But the addition of new administrative complexities, laws and regulations remain ongoing challenges. Although retailers respond and comply with these obligations, some are cumbersome to enforce. Especially when the rules differ between cities or levels of government.
For example, some municipalities have recently started to introduce, independently of each other, fees on certain consumer products – for environmental, tourist or other reasons. Since there are no provincial guidelines, the regulations and products involved differ from municipality to municipality. In some cases, a fee is only charged if you are not a citizen of that municipality , with the merchant having to ask for proof of residence at every transaction. With more than 1,100 municipalities throughout Quebec, imagine the administrative headache we would be creating for the business that has several establishments in various Quebec regions.
There is also a desire to reintroduce a bill that transfers to municipalities the responsibility for setting the opening hours of any business operating on its territory. That could lead to so many scenarios that will change according to time, locality and type of commerce. The anticipated impact on supply chains, already under pressure, is significant in a context exacerbated by the lack of manpower.
As companies automate, digitize and try to standardize their processes to optimize their relationships with consumers, let’s avoid having to deal with hundreds of scenarios of schedules, charges, rules that differ depending on the geography or level of government. Otherwise, it is the citizen who risks coming up against a closed door, an endless queue, missing products or royalties added to his bill.
Fortunately, all five political parties have shown great openness to what we have said. The challenge will be to maintain this openness beyond the elections.
Conseil canadien du commerce de détail – Quebec