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‘Contradiction there:’ Manitoba eyes looser holiday shopping rules

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is considering whether to loosen a law that limits holiday store openings and says he agrees with one business owner who has complained that some shops shouldn’t be forced to close while casinos and liquor outlets stay open.

“There’s a contradiction there, for sure,” Pallister said last week.

“I know there’s discussion going on right now at various levels in the government and departmentally about this issue. In my view, this would be a decision best made by municipalities.”

A Winnipeg family that owns five small grocery stores was ticketed this year for opening on Good Friday and is expecting to be penalized again this summer.

Ramsey Zeid, who manages one of the Food Fare grocery stores, said he and his relatives plan to continue opening on holidays in defiance of the law, which he calls among the strictest in Canada.

“There are customers that come into the city that have family here – that can’t believe that this law still exists here – from Ontario, from Alberta, from British Columbia, from Quebec,” said Zeid.

“They’re always like, ‘Seriously, you can’t open?”’

The Manitoba law is complex. Tourism outlets, restaurants, liquor and cannabis stores, pharmacies and casinos can open on holidays, as can any store that normally operates with four or fewer workers at a time.

Other businesses, including stores that have more than four employees working, can open on some holidays such as Victoria Day and Louis Riel Day, but not on six holidays that include Christmas, New Year’s Day and Canada Day.

Fines can range up to $10,000 a day.

Sunday openings used to be strictly limited as well, but the province decided years ago to allow municipalities to decide whether to allow retailers to open that day.

Pallister said he could not make any announcements immediately. The province is in a pre-election blackout on government advertising and promotion.

Pallister indicated he may have more to say closer to the Sept. 10 provincial vote.

“You know my respect for small business people … but it’s the law. So we’ll have to take a look at changing the law, right? And that’s underway. That discussion is happening.”