Editorial: Loosen shopping laws? Why not?

It’s encouraging to see Premier Brian Pallister musing, as he did last week, about the possibility of loosening up some of Manitoba’s shopping laws so that retailers like supermarket chain Food Fare in Winnipeg are no longer prevented from opening on certain holidays like Canada Day and Good Friday or facing hefty fines if they do.

And while the manager of one of the Food Fare stores that defied provincial law and opened on Canada Day despite facing a fine for having done the same on Good Friday says it’s mostly about unfairness, since some stores are allowed to open while others aren’t, the issue is actually bigger than that. It’s about the freedom of shoppers and business owners to make their own choices about when they want to spend their money and sell their goods and services.

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It wasn’t that long ago that Sunday shopping of any kind was basically unheard of in Canada and that you couldn’t get a beer anywhere but a restaurant or a bar on the Christian Sabbath. It was less than seven years ago that people in Thompson were finally given the freedom to engage in such unholy behaviour as buying a package of bacon for Sunday breakfast or brunch without having to wait until noon to do so, since it was only in October 2012 that council passed a Sunday shopping bylaw that allowed grocery stores to open their doors as early as 9 a.m. on Sunday, instead of being limited to opening between noon and 6 p.m. as they had before that. Nevertheless, compared to some other parts of Canada, where grocery stores may be open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. or later seven days of the week, or other parts of the world, where restaurants and bars stay open until 4 a.m. or even 6 a.m., Manitoba’s shopping laws remain fairly restrictive.

If a store owner wants his or her business to be open 16 or more hours a day, why shouldn’t the government let them? Beer vendors in Thompson stay open as late as 2:30 a.m. on weekends. You can buy gas at any hour of the day. There are 24-hour restaurants. If you’ve ever been near the outside doors of Safeway or Walmart just before 6 p.m. on a Sunday, you probably have firsthand evidence that there are plenty of shoppers who would be glad to spend the last few hours of their weekend (assuming they work a Monday to Friday schedule, which many people do not) picking up a few groceries or even just making that thing they wanted to have for dinner but couldn’t because they didn’t have all the necessary ingredients and there was nowhere open to buy them.

2019 is half over. We can buy marijuana in stores, order pizza online, get practically anything sent to our front doors via Amazon and eBay and dozens of other big online shopping sites. It doesn’t seem like it would be that much to ask to be able to buy groceries for a few hours longer each week, or on Canada Day, when you suddenly feel like firing up the barbecue.

So it’s good that the current premier sounds like he’s open to a discussion about loosening up Manitoba’s shopping laws. It’s just too bad he waited until it was too late for him to do anything about it before the next election to start talking about it.

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