Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Sunday shopping and the early-20th century values of Nova Scotia

Hello again, gentle readers. I'm back from three fascinating weeks spent in Ireland and Italy, which has provided me with ample fodder for posts on language policy, "authenticity" in tourism, and football. But I'm still a little jet-lagged, and will ramp up to full blogging speed with a CBC story I saw on my flight back to Canada yesterday.

Living in Sackville, New Brunswick puts me dead centre in the Maritimes. We do most of our grocery shopping in neighbouring Amherst, Nova Scotia which is a 10 minute drive away, just across the border (where the kind people at Atlantic superstore actually stock fresh herbs, unlike the local store, where even parsley is unavailable). The bridge to PEI is less than a half-hour drive away. This makes political events in the other provinces of keen interest to us. Hence my interest in Nova Scotia's archaic Sunday shopping law. Nova Scotia is the sole hold-out of the provinces to ban Sunday shopping, a decision recently re-affirmed by a close plebiscite vote in October 2004.

It's one of those cases where rural-urban values splits come into play. Urban areas, especially Halifax, want to be able to shop on Sundays. Rural areas are more opposed to this, and want legislation to force their views on the others. And so a blatantly Christian religion-based law is still enforced in the province. The governing Conservatives, with a reduced minority government, are still defending the law. The opposition NDP wants the issue referred by the government to the courts for a ruling on its constitutionality, rather than forcing Atlantic SuperStore, which is challenging the law, to bear the costs.

Here's another idea. Why don't the NDP and Liberals cobble together a bill to rescind the law, and show that they have the courage of their convictions? The no-Sunday shopping law is archaic, and should be rescinded. Hiding behind the Charter and the courts is a rather pathetic substitute for decisive political action. The 2004 referendum only bound the government not to act during the last mandate - and we're into a fresh one. It's time to pull the province kicking and screaming into the 21st century (or even the late 20th). If stores don't want to open on Sunday (or Monday, or Saturday) for religious or personal reasons, that should be their prerogative, but it should not be the result of government coercion.

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At 9:55 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your comments clearly show both your bias and just how ill informed you actually are on the topic. First off, the NS situation does not show the classic urban rural divide, because if you actually look at the results from the vote you would notice that Halifax actually voted against allowing Sunday shopping, not for it. As for the NDP supporting it, you should also note that it is only recently that the NDP were even open to the suggestion of Sunday shopping, out of fear of jeopardizing employee rights.

Now granted, the law has two major faults to it. The first being that it is still called the “lords day act”, and while 90%+ of the province might be Christian that doesn’t give it the right to use religion as an excuse to pass law. The second fault is that the law is only punishing certain businesses, and allowing others to bypass (eg: Shoppers, Gas Stations, etc) it using loopholes.

Oh, and your little jab about NS being stuck in the 20th century, how delightfully Central Canadian of you. For a real taste of 20th Century NS how about you walk into the Lower Deck in Halifax and proclaim that statement out loud and see the results that will bring you.

At 6:30 am, Blogger Matt said...

Every source that I've been able to find on the 2004 referendum indicates that voters in the HRM voted in favour of Sunday shopping, albeit not by a crushing margin. Voters in the border region also tended to be more favourable, mostly because of competition from here in New Brunswick. If you can point me to other stats on this, I'd welcome seeing them.

As for the NDP, I wasn't arguing that they had a strong stand in favour of Sunday shopping which was to be congratulated. I was trying to point out that Canadian politics has become too much about hiding behind the courts on difficult issues, rather than taking action through the legislature. While the constitutionality of Nova Scotia's current law may be debatable, a law permitting Sunday shopping would certainly be permissible under the constitution. I don't think the debate should be over whether or not the current law is consitutional, but rather about whether it is a good law, full stop.

As for my comment about pulling Nova Scotia's commercial law into the 20th century, if I'd been a Nova Scotian to make that comment (and I have heard many Nova Scotians make it), you wouldn't have commented. The fact that I was born in Ontario doesn't discount the validity of my observations. I said the same thing about my own province when it used to ban Sunday shopping.

Also, as a point of clarification, the NS law is no longer called the Lord's Day Act, although it may as well be, since the Act Respecting Uniform Closing Day for Retail Businesses includes Sunday as one of its mandatory closing days (if you're a large business).

At 9:10 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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