Shopping blues

  • September 10, 2007

{mosimage}Complaining about Sunday shopping might seem the epitome of flogging a dead horse. But in Nova Scotia, the horse has not been long dead and, as the good people of that fair province have discovered, the corpse is still twitching. So let’s flog away.

Courts, politicians and large corporations have conspired to rid the province of that last genteel bit of resistance to rampant consumerism: Sunday closings. It was in October that the old regulations governing Sunday and holiday openings were abandoned under pressure from big retailers. Despite a referendum in which the people of Nova Scotia pronounced themselves opposed to Sunday shopping, a Nova Scotia court had struck down the law, which was being widely disobeyed in any event, and the provincial government raised the white flag, leaving small retailers and all the people who worked in stores at minimum wages at the mercy of the market, as determined by Sobeys and Loblaws.

In recent decades, those who opposed wide-open Sunday shopping on religious grounds (remember the Lord’s Day?) had dropped that position in favour of social arguments about the value of a day of rest for all workers and a day for families to find some quality time together. Despite their reasonableness, these points never impressed the large retailers, who firmly believe a day without shopping is like a day without sunshine.

So now the people of Nova Scotia, like most of us, get the benefits of all shopping, all the time. As they are discovering, though, there is a down side.

Recent news reports reveal that the option of opening stores on holidays is causing nightmares for retailers, especially malls, as they struggle to decide who will stay open and who will close. It appears that not all retailers want to keep the shop open without a break for weeks on end. And not all workers relish having their own “weekends” when everyone else is at work.

“It’s just a nightmare every holiday trying to get a decision from the other retailers and the other shopping centres,” Terry Harvie, general manager of Dartmouth’s Mic Mac Mall, complained to the Globe and Mail (Sept. 1). “We need the government to step in and protect the employees and make a level playing field.”

Did we hear right? Was that a mall manager calling for legislation? And what kind of legislation would it be, if not to restrict holiday openings?

In fact, the leader of the official opposition in the Nova Scotia legislature, Liberal Stephen McNeil, went so far as to call on the government to restore some of the holidays that existed in the previous legislation. Unfortunately, he did not go far enough: there was no mention of Sundays.

No one should be surprised by Nova Scotia’s dilemma. After all, you can’t destroy one of the last vestiges of a civilized society without breaking a few eggs like, say, family life. Some eggs!

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