Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Abolish Manitoba's Blue Laws

Okay, I've been busy - so busy that I haven't had the time to comment on a pretty important event in Manitoba politics - the release of the 2012 Provincial budget. My longer posts take a lot of research and I fear that they crowd out more institutionally recognized activities due to their greater interestingness. But I have to comment on this Province's stupid sunday shopping laws and the smart move to extend the hours of sunday shopping.

Now, I get the idea that some people need a day off for family and rest, as the UFCW local 832 stresses. But why does it have to be sunday for all people in all situations? Why not have it stated in the labour code that employees must get at least one day off - if they so desire - and that they're allowed to specify it in advance (but after being hired)1? All the ultra-religious or people with other sentimental attachments to sunday can choose that day, whereas your average student, people who (for whatever reasons) want a monday off, and people with other days of religious/cultural reasons that make  a certain day of the week important can choose another day. It makes a lot more sense than restricting the hours workers (in non-convience store professions) can work on sunday.

Sunday shopping laws reek as a legacy of wrongful biblical encroachment on the public sphere. They're  half-dressed up blue laws, designed around the notion of the "sabbath day" for prayer. They shouldn't be enforced in a pluralistic, modern nation like Canada. Some worker representatives have refashioned this regressive policy to promote a stable off-day for hard working Manitobans. But it makes more sense to have a voluntary "off-day of your choice" enshrined in the labour code. The UFCW local 832 is making a grave tactical error in supporting Manitoba's blue laws. There's just no way to fight the tide, and while the "dinosaurian" characterization of unions is bunk2, this is a backwards looking campaign.        

Shoppers Drugmart: A pharmacy that sells
many groceries, allowed to stay open 24/7 on

Image Source: Photo taken by "the analyst"
Safeway: A grocery store that sells
pharmaceuticals , confined to
12 - 6 pm on sundays. 
The fact that convenience stores are exempt from sunday shopping laws, btw, probably explains the excitement over the Osborne Village Shoppers Drugmart expansion. This reveals a very arbitrary element to the shopping law -a pharmacy that sells a lot of groceries (like Shoppers Drugmart) can stay open 24/7 on a sunday, whereas as grocery store that sells some pharmacuticals (like Safeway) can only stay open from 12 pm -6 pm. True, the pharmacy at some Safeways close earlier than the stores, but if they didn't would it matter?

This is one of the few times that libertopians are right3 - Manitoba's blue laws have gotta go.

1 This voluntary "off-day of your choice" would be a right granted by the labour code in addition to the forty hour work week.
2 There's a few reasons for why the "dinosaurian" characterization is laughable. First, have those critics of worker representative organizations ever heard of Germany, an advanced, export led, economy that's very competitive in the global marketplace? Labour representatives are a crucial part of running German auto-manufacturers - via their role in electing some members of the corporate board. German auto-manufacturing is world renown.

 Another part of the "dinosaurian labour rep" narrative is that it's usually accompanied by the notion that Canadian and American corporations are genius-lead pillars of innovation having to fight needlessly adversarial unions. Given the fact that crude Canadian/American corporations go out of their way to prevent unions, to the point of hiring consulting firms, the adversarial stance of  labour organizations is largely reactive. And corporations that rely so much on a medieval institution like copyrights are somehow at the forefront of innovation?

Lastly, dinosaurs weren't primitive - they were well-adapted and specialized to their environments. More generalized (or, perhaps, "simpler") mammals (along with cockroaches) survived because small stuff can survive a one off disaster like an asteroid smashing into earth. If something like that happened to day, mice and roaches would survive, not us - regardless of how "advanced" we may be.

3 This strange bedfellowship with some libertarians reminds me of the about page on the Post-Keynesian observations blog:

"In terms of my background, I started graduate school as more of a libertarian type: don’t tell me I can’t buy beer on Sunday and leave the economy alone! I still want my beer on Sunday, but have come to the reluctant conclusion that an extreme free-market economy is dangerously unstable. "

While a teetotaller - so I don't consume beer - I still want my 50 bags of Green Tea at 7 pm from the dollar store next sunday. 


  1. Putting the vague comments about altering the Sunday shopping laws in the budget was nothing more than a diversion, intended to take peoples' attention away from the increased spending and increased taxes. If they are serious about changing Sunday shopping they would introduce it as a separate bill. It has no business being part of the budget.

    1. Please refrain from using the term "Excitement" when describing the expansion of The Osborn Village Shoppers Drug Mart. Nobody is excited believe me. As a matter of fact, people are down right fuckin' pissed.

    2. I know people who are "excited" about the Shoppers expansion, so you're statement is false. And, no, I won't discontinue using that term - while many Villagers are pissed off, the fact still remains that some people ARE excited over the expansion.