Montreal's festival season is back in full swing, but staff shortages could curb the fun

·3 min read
Montreal's Jazz Festival often sees crowds of more than 100,000 people gathered. Next month's edition will be the first full edition since 2019.  (Radio-Canada - image credit)
Montreal's Jazz Festival often sees crowds of more than 100,000 people gathered. Next month's edition will be the first full edition since 2019. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

For the first time in two years, Montrealers are gearing up for a summer of festivals with very few COVID-19 restrictions in effect, but there are concerns from festival organizers and business owners that labour shourtages could cut into the fun.

The Montreal International Jazz Festival, MURAL Fest, and the Grand Prix are just some of next month's attractions, but Montreal's downtown business association said there are rumblings the city might become a victim to its own success.

"We've all heard about the shortage of labour and it's a real threat for events in Montreal, for venues, really all businesses," said Glenn Castanheira, their executive director.

"The real risk is if we get too many people come back downtown and we're unable to host them adequately," he said.

"If we don't have enough people in hotels to keep those rooms tidy, to keep our restaurants open, to keep our festivals going, that might result in being a bad experience for those tourists."

CBC News
CBC News

Paul Boileau is the owner of the L'ours Blanc souvenir shop just around the corner from the Quartier des spectacles at from Place des arts. He's expecting a big summer with the return of the Jazz festival, but says staffing has been a challenge.

His sales went down 95 per cent over the pandemic. He's expecting business to pick up, but now he's stuck with only half as many employees as he's used to.

"It's very, very, very, very complicated," he said, saying businesses in the tourist industry are in competition to offer higher wages to workers.

CBC News
CBC News

"I put ads on Kijiji, and Emploi-Québec, and received only three CVs," he said.

Laurent Saulnier, vice-president of programming for the Montreal International Jazz Festival, said they're lucky to have staffing figured out, but said many other events are struggling.

"If you're doing a three or four-day festival anywhere else in the province in Quebec, I think that it is difficult to have the personnel that you need for your event," he said Tuesday as the festival announced its full lineup.

It's the festival's first full edition since the start of the pandemic. Over 350 artists will be performing in indoor and outdoor concerts over a period of ten days, from June 30 to July 9 — two-thirds of which will be free of charge.

A new stage is also being inaugurated dedicated entirely to Montreal-based artists. It will feature a handful of free shows, including two on July 1 with R&B artist Fernie and singer and rapper Emma Beko.

CBC News
CBC News

Saulnier hopes people will be eager to come out to the festival, even if the pandemic isn't over yet.

"After two years we just don't know if everybody is feeling safe enough to come to a giant festival," he said.

Castanheira is worried that businesses who have faced staffing challenges over the last few years will be overwhelmed with the sudden surge in demand. He says workers could be at risk of burning out.

"We can adapt extremely quickly and I'd say Montreal does it better than most, and we kept adapting, but we are quite tired, and the risk we do have here is you lose the people who simply haven't had the time to take a breath," he said.

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