The Ontario Legislature voted 82 to 35 on February 7, to approve two bills allowing municipalities to choose whether or not to permit open Sunday shopping. It is expected that over a period of time wide open Sundays will prevail even in communities opposed to them. Once a municipality opts for Sunday shopping, the neighboring municipalities will likely follow suit, fearing of loss of business for their local entrepreneurs.
Among those who are working hardest for open Sundays in Toronto are Jewish businessmen and the management of the Hudson Bay Company, which controls the Bay, Simpsons and Zellers department stores. They are supported by all three Toronto daily newspapers.
The Liberal Party has a huge majority, 94 out of 130 seats in the Ontario Legislature. Of the twelve Liberals who were absent (two were at a conference and nine were on holidays), only one MPP, Hans Daigeler of Nepean was absent because he opposed Sunday shopping. Daigeler is a Catholic lay theologian who previously worked for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Even he did not dare vote against the measure.
The 35 or 40 Roman Catholics among the 95 Liberals, and the significant number who belong to other faith communities were all unwilling to oppose the Peterson/Scott attacks on the family on the issue of Sunday shopping. They have been similarly disinclined to oppose the government’s fare more serious pro-abortion campaign.
The government of David Peterson and Ian Scott has refused to listen to the many opponents of Sunday shopping. Of the people most directly involved, the majority is strongly against the two bills – non-unionized retail workers, labour unions, small retailers’ associations and the full spectrum of religious bodies – from the Mennonite community to the Buddhist Council of Canada. Cardinal Carter appealed to Catholics in the Toronto Archdiocese to contact their MPPs and help stop Sunday from becoming a wide-open day. Anglican Archbishop John Boswell said that he and other leaders of his church were disturbed by Premier Peterson’s failure to acknowledge the extent and depth of the opposition. The briefs presented to the Ontario Legislature’s Justice Committee, when it held hearings on the proposed bill, ran twenty to one against. Recent public opinion polls showed that 57 per cent of the Ontario population were opposed.
Given recent court rulings, one hardly dares raise the fact that the majority of Canadians call themselves Christians, and for them Sunday is a day of religious observance. The arguments now have to turn on the desirability of a day of rest, or as it is now put, “a common pause day.” Most retail workers are women, and surely it is wrong to deprive them of their one predictable day off with their family. Storekeepers (on the whole) will not benefit, since on average they will take in the same amount of money in seven days as they took in six, and their overhead will be higher, since overhead will mean higher costs and higher prices, as it did in Alberta, where prices increased 15 per cent. Experience shows that many small retailers are forced to sell out because of higher costs and longer hours, and so business shifts to large chain stores.
The Liberals showed a cynical disregard for their own promises, since during the 1987 election campaign the declared that they would not bring in Sunday shopping. More than that, Premier Peterson behaved with the utmost arrogance. Shortly before the final vote on February 7, he accused the opposition of “wanton obstructionism” and said, “sometimes my kids do this – hoot and holler and cause a tantrum to get a little attention.” On the last day before the vote in the legislature, he responded to some protesters in Picton, Ontario, by saying that the legislation “reflects the size and diversity of our country,” and again refused to acknowledge the credibility of the opposition to it: “To me it makes such good common sense. I don’t understand the great kerfuffle.”
The Interim will publish the names of the 82 Liberals who voted for the legislation in the next issue.