Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Sunday Legislation and the Evasion of Responsibility

January 1, 1988 -

The regulation of Sunday shopping in Ontario is now thoroughly muddled and likely to become more so. That is because Ontario Solicitor General Joan Smith has announced that instead of maintaining province-wide legislation, the government will hand the responsibility over to the municipalities. The pressure on municipalities to allow Sunday opening of all stores will be immense, if not irresistible, should a neighbouring municipality decide to so.

Church groups, labour unions and even retailers themselves have voiced strong opposition to making Sunday just another business day. For example, in a full-page ad in the January 4 issue of the Toronto Star, Gerrit de Boer, proprietor of a large furniture outlet in Downsview, explains that wide-open Sunday shopping is bad for the family life of employees and will in any case not increase sales or produce jobs. He asks: "Where's the fairness, David Peterson, for the retail employees whom you are legislating to work on weekends? We need our family time, not wide-open Sunday shopping." Other retailers and their employees have expressed support for de Boer's defence of Sunday closing for businesses.

Ed Vanderkloet, executive secretary of the Christian Labour Association of Canada, has sent a strongly worded letter to Ontario's Solicitor General expressing the union's opposition to fobbing the Sunday closing laws off on local governments. Writes Vanderkloet:

The transfer of responsibility to the municipalities amounts to an abdication of l responsibility by the government. Only the government is in a position to legislate equitable laws that apply across the province with respect to commercial activity on Sundays and public holidays. It is quite obvious that municipal governments are in the worst position to withstand the enormous pressures for unrestricted shopping that will be brought to bear on them, especially when neighbouring municipalities allow such shopping. It is simply unjust and unfair to place the burden of decision making in this matter on the shoulders of city councils. 

The CLAC submission explains that protective legislation for employees who refuse to work on Sundays will be completely ineffective because employers will simply not hire or promote those who object to Sunday work. "Letting individual employees decide whether they will work on Sunday is another attempt by the government to evade its responsibility to do justice . . . Conversely," Vanderkloet concludes, "maintaining the present prohibition of most commercial activity on Sundays and other public holidays is a powerful vote in favour of social justice, especially where it concerns store employees and retail merchants. It will also honour a long Canadian tradition that has been of great I blessing to our society."

This evasion of responsibility on the part of the Ontario government is just another result of politics by calculation and expediency. Oddly enough, the defence of this long-standing and obviously socially beneficial policy is still backed by a large number of people across a wide spectrum of the population. And just last year an all-party committee of the Legislature unanimously supported the principle of a common pause day in Ontario. One can only ask of the premier, as did Gerrit de Boer, "David, whatever happened to principles?" Or even representing the concerns and wishes of those governed? It seems the current government's wish to appear modern and sophisticated is a large part of the answer. At the expense of the rest of us, especially those forced to sacrifice yet another support for healthy family life.

This article originally appeared in Comment magazine, a journal founded by Harry Antonides. Find all of Harry’s pieces, and thousands more, at http://www.cardus.ca/comment