‘Convoluted,’ contradictory holiday retail laws under review, premier says

Brian Pallister says the government is looking at allowing municipalities to control whether food stores and other retail outlets can open on statutory holidays.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/07/2019 (1183 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Brian Pallister says the government is looking at allowing municipalities to control whether food stores and other retail outlets can open on statutory holidays.

The premier said Thursday that he agrees with critics who say that the current rules on holiday shopping are inconsistent.

“I know there’s discussion going on right now at various levels in the government… about this issue,” he told reporters. “In my view, this would be a decision best made by municipalities in their areas of jurisdiction.”

Pallister was asked specifically about threats made by provincial officials to fine Food Fare, which opened on Canada Day in defiance of the law.

The local chain, with five stores in the city, has repeatedly defied the law governing holiday closures, calling it unfair. Provincial inspectors visited Food Fare’s Silver Heights location Monday, asking for the names of employees, work schedules and records and were refused.

It’s still unknown what action the province will take regarding Food Fare’s latest challenge to Manitoba’s Retail Businesses Holiday Closing Act. The company received a summons to appear in court July 23 relating to its decision to open on Good Friday.

Food Fare’s owners have argued that it is unfair to penalize food stores when provincial rules allow cannabis stores, government liquor stores and casinos to conduct business on statutory holidays.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Premier Brian Pallister announces a September election date in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building with his cabinet in Winnipeg on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. For Larry/Dan story. Winnipeg Free Press 2019.

“In my view, this would be a decision best made by municipalities in their areas of jurisdiction.”
– Premier Brian Pallister

Pallister agreed that the logic of the current law is “convoluted.”

“There’s a contradiction there, isn’t there?” he said.

Asked what he thought of the prospect of Food Fare being fined, Pallister said he has great respect for people who operate small businesses, but the law is the law.

It’s a law he appears to want to amend.

“That’s underway. That discussion is happening,” he said.

Manitoba municipalities already set their own rules for Sunday shopping.

Asked about the premier’s remarks, a spokesman for Brian Bowman said the mayor welcomes a review of the holiday shopping law and its effect on local businesses.

“Our office has not received any information on this from the province. However, the mayor looks forward to learning more about what the premier has in mind,” the spokesman said in an email.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Munther Zeid, manager at Food Fare

Any change to holiday shopping rules would require a legislative amendment. The legislature is not scheduled to sit until after the provincial election, set for Sept. 10.

The law allows businesses to open on statutory holidays if they sell prepared meals, liquor, cannabis, gasoline, boat supplies or garden plants. Stores operating with four or fewer employees are also allowed to be open.

Food Fare’s owner Munther Zeid called Pallister’s comments “promising.”

He said the premier and the minister responsible for labour, Blaine Pedersen, informed him the government was looking at amending the law when he ran into them at a recent Progressive Conservative party gala.

Zeid said public opinion in Winnipeg is on his side.

“Some people came out (Monday) just to buy something to show their support,” he said.

Zeid noted that other food retailers were also open on Canada Day in defiance of the law, but they did not receive a visit from officials with Manitoba’s employment standards branch.

And among the stores in his chain, only the Silver Heights location — the one at which he’s usually to be found — was targeted, he said.

Zeid wasn’t at the store Monday because he was en route to the Middle East.

He said his son was told by inspectors that if he didn’t provide employees’ names, addresses and phone numbers the store would be fined up to $1,000 for each staff member working that day. His son refused to provide the information.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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