By removing restrictions on Sunday and holiday retail hours, the Manitoba government is hoping to give customers and store owners more flexibility to shake up their shopping schedules.
Finance Minister Scott Fielding introduced Bill 2 (The Retail Business Hours of Operation Act) in the house Friday.
With a strong majority, the Progressive Conservatives expect the legislation will pass soon, Fielding said, allowing stores to decide whether they want to be open on Sundays and holidays, except for Remembrance Day, which will continue to have restricted hours.
Municipalities will have the ability to pass bylaws if they want to keep retail shopping hours restricted in their respective jurisdictions.
"We would anticipate because of the broad-based public support with this, that this bill would pass very soon," the finance minister said.
The expected law change is a long time coming in Manitoba, said John Graham, director of government relations for the Prairie Region of the Retail Council of Canada.
"We want to recognize that this day is an important day for the retail sector. When you look across Canada, Manitoba today has the most restrictive retail regulations in this country," he said.
When the bill is passed, Graham noted Manitobans will likely see more retail jobs become available and some businesses may see a boost in sales.
Munther Zeid, owner of five Food Fare grocery stores in Winnipeg, has flouted the law in the past by keeping his locations open on some holidays — and getting ticketed accordingly.
Zeid was fined $10,000 by the province earlier this year for staying open on Good Friday, a charge he was determined to fight. It was later dropped by the province, because prosecutors realized it was a "lose-lose situation" for government and business, he said.
Zeid said he was glad they changed tack and welcomed new shopping rules, though he mentioned he likely won't change the Sunday hours (10 a.m.-6 p.m.) at his stores, regardless, as "people want some time at night to be together instead of working."
"People should have a choice to do what they want on holidays, and if buying food and having a barbecue is what you want to do instead of going to the casino, or whatever you choose to do, you have that right to do it," he said.
Bill 2 also ensures workers still have the right to refuse work on Sundays, a condition celebrated by local labour groups.
"At a time when work-life balance is an increasing concern to all Manitobans, this is an important right that allows workers to have some time off with their families on weekends," Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck said in a prepared statement.
Bea Bruske, secretary-treasurer of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 832, is hoping the government will expand retail workers' rights further.
"I think opening (hours on) Sundays further is regressive, but keeping that provision (to not work Sundays) was very important for our members, so we’re happy with that piece of it," she said.
"But the other piece that we’re concerned about and that government really hasn’t addressed is predictive scheduling for retail employees, or just any kind of public-sector, service-sector type of employees."
NDP Leader Wab Kinew also raised predictive scheduling as an issue to consider after Bill 2 was tabled, saying retail employees should have a few weeks' notice ahead of their shifts.
He and Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont were both leaning toward supporting the bill, though they hadn't read it in depth before speaking to reporters.
Lamont said he might like to see an amendment included so that workers who prefer to take Saturdays or other days of the week off for religious reasons can do so, rather than being limited to Sundays for a day of rest.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.