Sunday Shopping (Again)

The issue of shopping on Sundays has reared its head here on Prince Edward Island again, with the introduction of a private member’s bill by Hon. Olive Crane, An Act to Amend the Retail Business Holidays Act.

And again the same forces are speaking out: it’s a freedom thing, they say; we should be able to shop whenever we want. And the news is full of person-on-the-street interviews and suggestions that there’s overwhelming support for abolishing the law that prevents unfettered year-round 7-days-a-week shopping.

But there’s a reason we don’t choose to govern ourselves by instant online poll: government is where we look to nourish our better selves; the filter of representative government allows other factors than “everyone wants it” to be considered. It allows for the broad view, the long view, the systematic view that places instant desires for fulfillment secondary to the greater good of the community.

This is why we have mandatory free public schooling (“forcing kids to go to school”), mandatory speed limits (“forcing everyone to drive slowly”), liquor laws (“forcing everyone not to be drunk all the time”) and universal health care (“forcing me to to pay for my neighbour when he gets sick”).

I don’t think shopping is bad. But I think that it’s healthier for the community to have a single day every week when, as much as we’re able, we move away from shopping and concern ourselves with other pursuits. This isn’t about God or Jesus, it isn’t about “family,” or a “day of rest.” It’s simply about a mutually agreed upon day when commerce is removed from the equation.

This indeed does involve a limiting of our “freedoms” and prevents everyone from a full exercise of their “right” to shop all the time if they so choose. But that’s an inevitable by-product of a system that is based on living in community; our individual rights are placed secondary to the collective long-term good.

A 2008 Guardian op-ed piece on this topic, Sunday shopping: how we got where we are, by Dr. Pamela Courtenay-Hall, remains the most cogent argument I’ve read to date, and its stand out paragraph remains:

Further, to construe ‘individual liberty’ as being primarily about ‘consumer choice’ is to misconceive the fundamental role of individuals in a society. It is not to consume or to own stores. It is to build a good life in community with others.

And she concludes:

Make no mistake about it. There is a battle of giants going on in our time, becoming only more intense as Wal-Mart enters the field of grocery superstores in Canada. All of them are competing to become The One – our one and only source for food, clothing, toilet paper, drugs, small appliances, and on and on. Unless we engage in civic action to preserve local economies, we will become their helpless dependants, relying on their suppliers and their underpaid workers in countries overseas to feed us. To say no to Sunday shopping isn’t going to save our communities from the fallout of globalized capitalism. But it is to exercise the kind of community intelligence and local control that can.

That is the broad view, and I hope our Members of the Legislative Assembly have the courage to consider it and to vote against this bill.