Ward 5 Coun. Ron Dupuis proposed the referendum last winter, in the wake of another failed attempt to deregulate city store hours, this time by Mayor Marianne Matichuk. Dupuis proposed adding store hours to the ballot in time for the next municipal election in 2014.
“Rather than have the debate and the same results time and again, we just want to see if public involvement will change anything,” Dupuis said in February. “A referendum is very cost effective, especially if you do it at election time.”
The issue has come back to council several times over the last 20 years, with members of the business community calling on council to let stores decide when to operate. Labour groups, however, are opposed, and often show up to city council en masse to make their opposition clear.
Currently, most stores have to close by 10 p.m., with the exception of pharmacies, which can stay open until midnight, and convenience stores, which can operate 24 hours a day.
City bylaws also don’t allow stores to open Boxing Day and on the Civic Holiday in August.
Councillors directed staff to prepare a report on the steps necessary to add the question to the ballot, and about all the technical requirements. Councillors must now decide whether to direct staff to go to the next step: preparing the wording of the actual question.
One potential problem highlighted in the report is that to be binding, at least 50 per cent of voters must participate. Historically, voter turnout for municipal elections in Sudbury has been about 41 per cent, although the 2010 vote attracted 49.75 per cent of eligible voters.
The addition of the referendum question, the report says, may be enough to ensure a large enough turnout.
“The addition of a bylaw question, particularly if the bylaw question is one of broad public interest, can enhance voter interest and lead to increases in voter turnout,” it stated.
“Further as one municipality noted when responding to our inquiries, while a bylaw question may not be legally binding because the turnout does not meet the threshold established in the legislation, the results of asking that question are politically influential.”
Writing the actual question is also problematic, and has sparked legal battle in other places that have held referendums, so the wording would be key, the report stated.
As long as the wording of the question doesn’t lead to legal battles, which has happened in other jurisdictions, the cost of holding the referendum is minimal, the report concludes, since the municipal vote is being held, anyway.