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.


Charles's picture
Charles on November 24, 2010 - 03:43 Permalink

I’m curious, and I think it’s relevant to your views on the issue: When do you do your shopping (groceries, necessities, etc)?

Neal Gillis's picture
Neal Gillis on November 24, 2010 - 04:25 Permalink

Thanks Peter. I was working on a blog post making the exact same argument. You’ve inevitably said it much better than I’d have.

Ann Thurlow's picture
Ann Thurlow on November 24, 2010 - 13:14 Permalink

I agree completely (in case there’s a legislator out there counting).

Joshua Biggley's picture
Joshua Biggley on November 24, 2010 - 13:26 Permalink

This is one of the most eloquent arguments against Sunday shopping and one that, in spite of my religious position on the subject, articulates my intellectual objections to Sunday shopping as well as, or even better, than I could done myself.

As in all things politics, this smacks as dirty politics by the Conservatives. If the Liberal majority approves the measure then the Conservatives spin it — Conservatives are the heros, fighting for what the people “want” and forcing (emphasis there) a Liberal government to concede error in their position. If the Liberals defeat the bill, then the Conservatives spin it as the Liberals being disconnected from the people and rejecting the ‘common consensus’ for Sunday shopping.

Petty politics — bah!

One question I hope our MLAs have considered — what problem will Sunday shopping resolve? Is there some pressing economic, social, environmental, etc. issue that will be remedied by modifying our existing laws? If so, what is it? I’ve pondered it extensively and I can’t figure out how being able to shop at Wal-Mart one more day a week is going to help Islanders.

Again Peter — beautifully eloquent. If you ever decide to run for office, you’ve got my vote.

Johnny Rukavina's picture
Johnny Rukavina on November 24, 2010 - 14:00 Permalink

I don’t necessarily disagree, but I think its important to consider that:

A) You are free to set your own schedule because of your work situation.

B) You don’t actually *do* the grocery shopping regularly.

C) You generally work *every* Sunday, making commerce very much part of the equation in your own life.

HappyHax0r's picture
HappyHax0r on November 24, 2010 - 14:13 Permalink

So, curious

If the shopping ban was to be on a Saturday instead of a Sunday, would you still approve?

A Saturday shopping ban makes the most logical sense as it’s the only day that’s not framed in by needing to go to work or school the next day and thus it’s unfettered.

If the argument is “we’re doing this for the community” then it only logically makes sense to get the most bang for your buck by allowing people to do “community” or “family” things without the presence of commerce. The day that allows that the most is Saturday.

citygal's picture
citygal on November 24, 2010 - 14:17 Permalink

I work six days a week. Sunday is my only day off so I need to do shopping etc on Sunday!

boostventilator's picture
boostventilator on November 24, 2010 - 15:44 Permalink

Four years ago, when this debate was raging on here in Nova Scotia, I offered up a challenge after reading a rant my girlfriend came up with about the situation. I found it odd that I couldn’t easily buy a turkey or a box of nails but could get drunk and make restaurant staff work. Part of me also throught that protesting against a large company like Walmart is more effective when you choose to not shop there 7 days a week, not 6 because they are mandated to close one day. I guess I just wanted someone to explain to me why the current laws made sense and why grocery stores should be penalized for taking advantage of the loopholes, like Pete’s Frootique. The prize would be all products that I could could purchase on a Sunday during the ban, illustrating to me that the current laws continue to discriminate against certain jobs that obviously fall outside the bounds of “emergency” service (it should be noted that several of these businesses have gone out of business, but mostly because of the unrestrictive internet and not from Walmart):

<li>$20 worth of gambling at the Casino Nova Scotia</li>
<li>something “double double” from Tim Hortons</li>
<li>breakfast at Mollyz</li>
<li>a growler at the Propeller Beer Store</li>
<li>a personal pleasuring device from Venus Envy</li>
<li>a pornographic dvd (your choice of orientation) from Excitement Video</li>
<li>a free rental of The Passion of the Christ from Video Difference</li>
<li>a pair of No Sweat sneakers from Outside the Lines</li>
<li>a screening of the latest Pixar movie and an overpriced bag of popcorn at an Empire Theatre</li>
<li>a spa refresher at Interlude Spa</li>
<li>a workout at Nubodys</li>
<li>a swim at Centennial Pool</li>
<li>a soya chocolate magic gelato cone at Dio Mio Gelato</li>
<li>a box of extra small condoms at Shopper’s Drug Mart</li>
<li>a Bingo scratch ticket from Lawton’s Drugs</li>
<li>a unit of bologna from Pete’s Frootique</li>
<li>a pint of raspberry ale from Rogue’s Roost</li>
<li>a copy of your favourite adult themed magazine from Atlantic News</li>
<li>a used Lennie Gallant CD from CD Plus</li>
<li>lunch at Mother Tucker’s (you have to pretend it’s your birthday)</li>
<li>a microwave rice cooker from Mulan Cultural Artifacts</li>
<li>a case of beer from the Keith’s Brewery</li>
<li>a t-shirt from Cow’s</li>
<li>a souwester from Murphy’s on the Water</li>
<li>a ride on the Halifax/Dartmouth ferry</li>
<li>a bootleg Tommy Hilfiger sweater from a flea market</li>
<li>a country music 8-track tape from Value Village</li>
<li>a book about Jesus from Chapters</li>
<li>something “grande” from Starbucks</li>
<li>supper at Steak & Stein (and you have to pretend it’s my birthday)</li>
<li>rent Grand Theft Auto at Blockbuster</li>
<li>order a “Stop Clubbing Baby Seals” shirt from T-Shirt Hell</li>
<li>a 1/2 hour of adult entertainment at Sensations Cabaret (beverage not included)</li>
<li>$5 for a VLT at Gus’ Pub</li>
<li>$20 donation to the Church of your choosing</li>

It is most likely that the rules weren’t restrictive enough and our law and enforcement will continue to ignore the average worker with our without the Sunday shopping ban, but I still can’t imagine a logical framework to defend this ban without adding more hypocrisy and regulation to the current, illogical system.

LC's picture
LC on November 24, 2010 - 23:54 Permalink

I agree completely — I wonder why this issue is being orchestrated to play itself out now just two years after present law was put in place. I am also concerned when politicians rely on polling rather than govern as they are elected to do. It is easy to get some people to say yes to shopping but it takes much more effort to discern the underlying issues and long term impact of such decisions — your viewpoint reminds us of a viewpoint that needs to be carefully considered.

Ashley Johnston's picture
Ashley Johnston on November 25, 2010 - 13:00 Permalink

The counter argument to ‘government for the greater community’ is a question about whether keeper of the community should carry a gun. The only thing keeping shops closed on Sundays are fines backed by guns. A community ruled by a gun is not much of a community, if a community at all.

Don’t like Sunday shopping: Don’t shop on Sundays. Don’t like Sunday working: Don’t work on Sundays. These are choices that can be made individually or collectively, but they should be made voluntarily.

shane bryanton's picture
shane bryanton on December 2, 2010 - 21:11 Permalink

It was nice to have some little thread left of a culture that was not totally built around buying and selling. Some may have seen it as quaint or backwards but little by little the old values that defined our lives as something more than what we consume is slowly and surely fraying away.

It’s not abut Church it’s about purpose.