Quebec Restaurants are struggling to stay afloat

With the introduction of a commission-free delivery app, restaurants are given a lifeline

It is no secret that the restaurant and food industry is suffering from some effects of the pandemic.

The average restaurant in normal times could attribute most of their business to dine-in service, with take-out and delivery sales making up a smaller portion of revenues. Nowadays with in-house dining not being an option, all of Quebec restaurants’ revenues are from the takeout and delivery avenues.

While provinces like Ontario and British Columbia have set caps on the commission fees that delivery services like SkipTheDishes and UberEats can charge to restaurants, the Quebec government has all but done the same.

Though some of these services have offset the initial costs to set up their use for restaurants, the large commission fees are weighing down the open restaurants, and have brought others to close their doors.

Sherif Hafez, owner of Essence restaurant in downtown Montreal, has closed his restaurant after trying to operate with delivery services like SkipTheDishes for six months, saying, “You’re basically working for them and there’s nothing left for yourself.”

When the costs of operation such as labour, hydro and rent are put into the equation, and on top of that delivery services skim 30 to 35 per cent, “It wasn’t worth it at all to operate,” said Hafez.

Quebec restaurants that have thrived off the merit and business of the customer that dines in, are sinking. According to business owners like Hafez, the government is turning its back on them.

“I think it’s along the lines of the lack of support to the industry. The provincial government has not been supportive of the industry at all,” he said.

In light of these needs for restaurants, a new commission-free delivery service has arisen: CHK PLZ. To date, the app has received an average of a 4.7/5 user rating between the iOS and Google Play app stores.

The app does not take such high percentages off the top of restaurants’ orders, but rather a fixed rate per transaction. Instead of having its own fleet of drivers, the company partners with rideshare services, such as Montreal-based company, Eva.

When asked if he would consider trying out a commission free delivery service, Hafez said he would be open to trying the idea out.

Annie Clavette, owner of Le Gras Dur and Maamm Bolduc in Montreal, has enjoyed her experience with the service thus far.

“We like [CHK PLZ] very much but the sad part is not enough customers use it; UberEats is the more expensive and the most popular one — go figure,” she said.

While Le Gras Dur is available for order on a variety of delivery platforms, Clavette’s approach has seen her relocate the setup as a ghost kitchen at Maamm Bolduc. The ghost kitchen model sees restaurants geared towards takeout and delivery specifically — it is essentially just an operating kitchen, without having the added space of a dining room and a bar. By doing so, restaurants are able to save on many operational costs, much like a food truck.

Though Clavette has worked hard to receive support from the Association Restauration Québec, no new regulations or support systems have trickled down the grapevine as of yet.

For business owners like Clavette and Hafez, having to fight for support from the government to keep your profits can be demoralizing.

As Clavette put it, “It is very frustrating, you feel you are begging for your money.”


Photograph by Christine Beaudoin


Protest against controversial curfew and increasing police power

Over 100 people gathered to protest against the curfew that is impacting the homeless and potentially giving more power to the police

In response to the rising cases of COVID-19 in Quebec, the provincial government has enacted a controversial curfew, which is seen to negatively impact the homeless and people in poverty. There has been public outcry and protests against the curfew.

The group responsible for the demonstration on Jan. 16, Pas de solution policière à la crise sanitaire, stated the protest was to push back on the increased power being given to the police.

In a press release, the organization stated they do not affiliate with right-wing groups, such as the anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests that have taken place in recent months.

“This demonstration aims to denounce the political choice of Legault’s government to impose a curfew throughout Quebec in response to the increase in cases, by hospitalizations, and deaths related to COVID-19,” read the statement. “After 10 months of a health crisis, the CAQ is again opting for the police solution.”

In a public statement, the group said that the goal of the protest was to denounce the use of police in a public health crisis, and encourage the government to relocate those funds in a more effective manner.

Let us stand in solidarity in the face of police repression, let us learn not to leave anyone behind,” said the statement.

“The police presence really affects the homeless people in a negative way, because they are trying to avoid the police,” said Jessica Quijano, a spokesperson for the Defund the Police Coalition and a member of the Iskweu Project, an initiative of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.

Quijano spoke about the recent death of an Innu man that was living on the streets. According to a CTV article, the man froze to death near the Open Door homeless shelter, which due to the COVID-19 restrictions, was no longer allowed to have clients overnight.

Quijano explained that police presence doesn’t help in a pandemic; she used the criminalization of people during the AIDS crisis as an example.

We can’t trust the police to use their discretion, because we know that the SPVM has a history of racism,” she said.

“At least offer a house to the homeless, and not just shelters, places where people could isolate and be comfortable,” she said, explaining that the best solution to the issue is giving the homeless resources. “Not giving people tickets, not to people that are already in poverty.”

Quijano explained that before the curfew was implemented, there were outbreaks in shelters and homeless people who had tested positive were walking around in public. The curfew has just added to the shelters’ struggles to serve the homeless community in a safe way.

“It makes you really question the legitimacy of the public health [association] when they are making these decisions,” Quijano said.

On Tuesday, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante called for homeless people to be exempt from the curfew, but later that day during a COVID-19 press brief, Premier François Legault rejected it, as he believes people would impersonate the homeless to get out of curfew.

The SPVM said in a statement that officers have to show tolerance and judgement in their interventions with the homeless.

“Before giving a ticket, each situation is analyzed in consideration of the specific context and particularities,” read the statement. “If it’s possible, officers can also accompany these persons to the appropriate resources.”

“These are necessary measures to counter the spread of the virus,” said Marie-Louise Harvey, media spokesperson for the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux, who explained that the priority of the curfew and the restrictions was to lessen strain on hospitals.

She also stated that while the ministry has no official survey of the population’s view of the curfew, “It does know that a certain percentage of the population is unhappy with the situation.”


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


The provincial government needs to fix the childcare system

While planning my move from Calgary to Montreal with a toddler last year, I was in a state of joy.

Not only is childcare largely subsidized in Quebec, but I had heard wonders about the CPE system. CPE stands for “centre de la petite enfance,” government-funded daycares where qualified educators follow Montessori-like pedagogical programs.

It turns out things were more complicated than I expected. 

First of all, the length of the CPEs waitlist is unfathomable.

According to the Québec Ministry of Family, as of March 2018, CPEs had a capacity of 96,000 spaces. Compare that to more than 115,000 in private daycares and some 90,000 in at-home private daycares. Most children, therefore, attend private facilities — subsidized and unsubsidized, the cost of the latter being alleviated by tax returns.

Licencing private daycares costs less than opening more CPEs, which is the avenue the past and present governments have embraced. While childcare in a CPE costs on average $60 of public funds per day per child, a day in a private daycare usually amounts to $22 in taxpayer money, say Le Soleil and L’Actualité.

Second, too many private daycares are of substandard quality.

The Observatoire des tout-petits, part of the Lucie et André Chagnon Foundation, said in a 2018 report that between 33 and 40 per cent of children placed in private daycares “are attending facilities of poor or very poor quality.” The proportion is below 3 per cent for CPEs. In a mirror effect, while 45 per cent of CPEs provide “good or excellent” care, less than 10 per cent of private facilities do.

In one private daycare I had put my child in, I found that kids aged between two and three were just put in front of the TV for several hours a day instead of taking part in the educational activities I was told they were doing. Some weeks, children did not go outside a single time, even when the weather allowed it.

Besides health and safety regulations, requirements to open a private daycare are minimal. In theory, two out of three educators should be ‘qualified,’ which is to say that they have a diploma in early childhood education. But a 2016 report of the Ministry of Family found that only 16 per cent of private daycares respect the two out of three qualified educators’ rule.

In an attempt to make childcare more affordable for families, the Legault government announced on Nov. 8 the reduction of fees in subsidized facilities, from up to $13.20 per day to $8.25 per day. And, according to La Presse, the government is working on subsidizing 3,000 spaces in private daycares.

These measures are beneficial to Quebec families. However, they do not solve one of the most pressing and worrisome issues of childcare in Quebec: the quality of care in private facilities.

Finally, Premier François Legault campaigned on the promise of developing the preschool system for kids of age four. But the educational support and equipment in preschools are poor as per the study by the Observatoire des tout-petits. Children in CPEs receive a better education than children in preschools.

Too many families struggle to find decent daycare. Low-income parents rarely have the time and money to invest in finding a good option and potentially commuting to get there. More CPEs have to be established to foster the needs of Québec children, especially in underprivileged neighbourhoods. And the bar needs to be raised with respect to the regulation of private daycares. The future of the next generation is at stake.

Graphic by @sundaeghost


Immigration: a pass or fail test

Immigrants will have to pass a values test in order to settle in Quebec.

The Québec government announced last October that immigrants who want to settle in Quebec will have to pass a ‘values test’ as of Jan. 1, 2020.

According to the Official Gazette of Québec, the official publication of the Québec government, the test will serve as part of Québec’s selection process. It must be passed within a two-year period before applicants can apply for permanent residency.

The values tests for new immigrants was one of the electoral promises made by the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) during their 2018 provincial election campaign, along with a mandatory French proficiency exam.

During a press conference, Quebec’s immigration minister, Simon Jolin-Barrette, shared an example of what the questions will be like: “Since March 27, 2019, Bill 21, the secularism of the state, says every new police officer cannot wear religious symbols on the job. True or false?”

The test will be made up of 20 questions covering topics like francophone culture and Québec democracy, among others. The questions will be chosen at random from a bank of questions. “It will never be the same evaluation,” said Jolin-Barrette.

Applicants are required to get a score of 75 per cent or more for it to be successful. Only after passing the test will applicants receive a certificate selection, allowing them to apply for permanent residency with the federal government.

If the applicant fails the initial test, they must wait a minimum of two weeks before being allowed to retake the test. If the applicant fails a second time, they will have to follow a course offered by the government to learn about the province’s values. Should the applicant fail a third time, they will have to restart the process from the beginning.

“It’s important, before deciding to come to Quebec, to know that if you expect to be in a job in a position of authority, you will not have the right to wear religious signs,” Legault told reporters during a scrum. “So, I think it’s important that you understand the values of where you want to live.”

International students who wish to settle and work in Québec after graduating are given a choice: they can either attend a course, or take the exam. The course is offered by the Québec government and upon completion, students will receive a learning attestation. Temporary workers will be offered the same option.

New economic class immigrants must take the test, with exemptions for children and applicants who have a medical condition preventing them from taking the test. Immigrants who are coming as refugees or through family reunification are also exempt.

“I think it’s normal that immigrants who arrive in Quebec and enjoy all of its advantages have to respect its values,” said Zachary Lumbroso, an international student studying Journalism at Concordia University.

Many seem to think that the idea behind the test is good because it is important to know about the culture and the values of the places you plan on living in. However, most are also under the impression that the test will be a waste of time.

“I don’t mind learning about Québec values,” said Piyush Gulia, a second year international student studying architectural sciences at Montreal Technical College. “I just think that having to do a test is a bit silly, it’s a waste of time honestly.”

People have also been skeptical about how honest the applicants will be when answering the questions.

“Anyone with some common sense can pass this test, regardless of whether or not they actually respect the values in question,” said Gulia. “They’ll answer what the government wants to hear.”

Despite the uncertainty and skepticism, the Québec government is still proceeding with the implementation of the test. The CAQ hopes that it will one day become more than just part of the Québec selection process, and become a part of the permanent residency process, according the Official Gazette of Québec.


Graphic by Victoria Blair

Student Life

Naloxone 101: Frontlines of the opioid crisis

Saving lives and breaking down stigmas with public education

“I’m here today because there isn’t a very effective public education program,” said Richard Davy, a first-year social work student at McGill, after wrapping up the first in a series of naloxone training sessions he’s holding in November. To Davy’s delight, his first presentation on Nov. 7, which amassed an assorted crowd of students, community members and TV news crews, was a success. “People aren’t aware of this, even though we’ve known about naloxone for what seems like forever,” he added.

Naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, is the substance used to reverse an opioid overdose. Once administered, either nasally or through muscular injection, the naloxone blocks opioid receptors in the brain and temporarily alleviates some of the life-threatening effects of opioids. In cases of accidental overdose, it is often family, friends or bystanders who are tasked to recognize and treat an overdose, so the naloxone kits are designed to be easy-to-use for non-medical professionals.

Naloxone is also fairly easy to access; in 2017, the Quebec government began offering free naloxone kits in Quebec pharmacies to anyone 14 or older. The decision was made in reaction to the rising opioid-related hospitalization rates across Canada over the past decade. According to former Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette, this was also part of a comprehensive strategy to address the public health emergency in the province that was declared after a spike in fentanyl overdoses in the summer of 2017.

Despite removing significant barriers to harm-reduction tools, the provincial government’s comprehensive strategy seems to be missing a key piece: public education. There remains a widespread lack of practical education that could equip community members with the skills and confidence required to capitalize on these resources. A 2017 opioid awareness survey by Statistics Canada found that only seven per cent of Canadians know how to both obtain and administer naloxone. Less than 30 per cent of respondents agreed that they would be able to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose.

Richard Davy, a first year social work student at McGill, held a series of naloxone training sessions throughout November. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Grassroots community organizations have long been doing the harm-reduction work the provincial government has only recently began to adopt in principle and practice. In 2013, Méta d’Âme, a Montreal-based “self-help organization ‘by and for’ people who depend on opioids,” created Prévenir et Réduire les Overdoses Former et Accéder à la Naloxone (PROFAN), a project focused on reducing opioid-related deaths through harm-reduction tactics, mainly the use of and access to naloxone.

PROFAN is among many longstanding independent initiatives offering informal overdose 101 education and, despite consistent action on a community level, there has yet to be a government-subsidized education program that offers the same hands-on experience.

“[Naloxone training] should be part of our repertoire of first aid. We should have an epipen in our first aid kit; we should have a naloxone kit in our first aid kit,” said Davy. “And again, that begins with education. That begins with the government getting behind it, with schools getting behind it, so we can start to raise awareness.”

Those aged 15 to 24 are within the demographic with the fastest growing rate of hospitalization for opioid poisoning according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). Yet youth and young adults are not formally presented with this information in an educational setting, nor are they given any collective incentive to seek it out. “If youth are going to [use substances/drugs], and they are, we need to at least give them harm-reduction tools,” said Davy. Seeing both the need for and lack of practical education at his university, Davy stepped in.

The training session not only includes step-by-step instructions of how to detect signs of an opioid overdose and how to respond using naloxone, Davy deliberately contextualized the issue to present a more comprehensive, human view of drug use and addiction. “As social workers, we’re really encouraged to look at things through a holistic lens, including the more invisible stigmas and oppressions, and I think it makes it much easier to have that deep sense of compassion for people,” said Davy. “I see the pain. I have my own history of trauma, and I connect with that when I see it in other people.”

“The absence of public education encourages more stigma and discrimination, which discourages treatment and access to treatment,” said Yamin Weiss, a fellow McGill social work student invited by Davy to share his lived experience with drug addiction and recovery. “Public opinion is huge to people internalizing a problem of addiction. A lot of people don’t seek help because they’re so stigmatized.”

Each participant left Davy’s training session with a fully-stocked naloxone kit and a new set of practical skills. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Naloxone may be the antidote to opioid overdose, but, according to Weiss, it will take much more to solve the underlying structural issues. “Drug addiction and recovery is something for the public to be concerned about and to care about,” said Weiss. “And public acceptance can only happen through public awareness, which is why we have Naloxone training like today.”

In its federal opioid awareness campaign, the Canadian government has broadly recognized social and structural stigma as being a pervasive force impacting the quality of and access to care for people with problematic drug use. Under the bolded “How You Can Help” heading of the government website, it is suggested that we, as Canadians, “can learn about substance use disorder and educate ourselves about the medical condition.” An auspicious idea, yet rendered ineffective without corresponding educational opportunities provided on a broad scale.

Each participant left Davy’s training session with a fully-stocked naloxone kit, a new set of practical skills, and a more nuanced view of an issue that may have seemed insurmountable from the outset. “One of my intentions with this today was to take away a little bit of the fear. Take away some of that fear and now we’re progressing” said Davy.

Davy will hold a Naloxone 101 workshop at Concordia (CSU Offices H-711) on Thursday, Nov. 22. Admission is free, but due to overwhelming demand, participants are encouraged to register beforehand via Facebook to secure a spot.

Photos & video by Mackenzie Lad


Concordia institutes Voluntary Departure plan to cope with budget cuts

$29 million in total cuts by the end of this fiscal year forces Concordia to snip where it can.

Concordia University announced on Sept. 24 that it will be instituting a Voluntary Departure Plan for staff in continuing efforts to adjust to government instructions mandating $13 million in budget compressions for the current fiscal year.

The program, unveiled after  internal consultation on ways to meet a shrinking budget, will see mostly administrative staff given the option of leaving before contract expiry in exchange for severance packages, said to total about a year’s worth of pay for staff who have been working at the school over 10 years. Faculty members such as professors or other positions like librarians won’t be included in the plan.

The expected cost of the severance packages will help deal with the deficit to be overcome by saving the university up to $5 million this year, and may save up to $12 million on a permanent basis from the 2015-2016 fiscal year onwards. Concordia says it expects anywhere from 150 to 180 individuals to take the offer in a lengthy ‘rebalancing’ that would last several months to sort out.

Ultimately the amount of staff that will leave are unknown and it may very well be less than predicted, though Concordia President Alan Shepard said previous schools who’ve instituted the initiative have equally met greater-than-expected demand. Either way, he stressed the completely voluntary nature of the plan and how it was made with care in mind for the loyalty of university staff.

Other measures will be taken in addition to the Voluntary Departure Program in response to the government’s compression of the budget. For one, there would be delays in upgrading equipment like computers, but Shepard said there would be no cuts in student bursaries, scholarships, or research.

Shepard also admitted several important positions might go empty under such circumstances, but that the university would do its best to adapt.

“It’s hard to change the tire of the car when the car is running,” he said of the difficulties in changing a large entity like a university.

“We’re trying in a most respectful way to respond to the restraints given,” said Shepard on the difficult financial climate Concordia and other education institutions are facing.


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