City councillors will hold their first debate over the wording for the store hours referendum questions at its Oct. 30 meeting.
A report prepared by city clerk Caroline Hallsworth proposes wordings for three questions: one deals with shopping on Boxing Day; the second deals with shopping on the Civic Holiday in August; and the third deals with whether stores should be allowed to determine their own hours of operation.
Repeated efforts to deregulate store hours in the city over the years have failed, but the issue keeps coming back to council. Personal convictions and strong opposition from local labour groups has convinced enough councillors that laws restricting when Sudbury businesses can open and close should remain in place. Business groups have countered that the city shouldn’t be telling business when they can operate, and say most Sudburians support deregulation.
Mayor Marianne Matichuk campaigned on a promise to change the store hours bylaw, and it was one of the first issues she brought before council after her election in fall 2010. Her motion to deregulate store hours, brought forward in February 2011, was defeated 8-5. However, Ward 5 Coun. Ron Dupuis suggested the issue go to a referendum so residents could have the final say on the issue.
“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 at the time. “A referendum is very cost effective, especially if you do it at election time.”
Meeting in September of this year, council directed Hallsworth to come up with suggested wordings for the questions. The precise wording is important, because groups on either side of the issue can appeal if they feel the wording of the question leads residents to vote one way or another.
In her report, Hallsworth said her department came up with the proposed questions after researching similar questions used in referendums in Nova Scotia, Edmonton and Sault Ste. Marie.
The proposed wording for the store hours question is “Are you in favour of allowing retail business establishments to set their opening hours?” The Boxing Day question is “Are you in favour of retail business establishments opening on Dec. 26?” And the Civic Holiday question is, “Are you in favour of retail business establishments opening on the first Monday in August?”
Assuming councillors agree to a wording at their Oct. 30 meeting, groups and residents have until Nov. 27 to provide comments and written submissions. Barring any issues or delays, the bylaw to formally establish the questions would be passed at council’s Dec. 11 meeting. After that, any groups or individuals who believe the questions aren’t fair have 20 days to appeal to the chief electoral officer of Ontario.
If it passes through that hurdle, the questions will become official New Year’s Eve. At that point, discussion of the issue at city council or its committees will be prohibited, since the municipality remains officially neutral. Each side of the issue can organize themselves, raise money and campaign.
To be binding, at least 50 per cent of voters must take part in the election.
Traditionally, turnout for local elections hovers around the 40 per cent mark, although turnout in 2010 was 49.75 per cent. The next municipal election is slated Oct. 27, 2014.
The current bylaw requires most stores close Mondays through Saturdays from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. on the following day, and on Sundays from 6 p.m. until 5 a.m. on the following day. The bylaw also requires most stores to close at 6 p.m. on both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Shopping on Boxing Day and the Civic Holiday is also prohibited.
How they voted:
Results of the February 2011 vote by city council on whether to deregulate store hours in Greater Sudbury:
No: Ward 1 Coun. Joe Cimino, Ward 2 Coun. Jacques Barbeau, Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume, Ward 4 Coun. Evelyn Dutrisac, Ward 5 Coun. Ron Dupuis, Ward 6 Coun. André Rivest, Ward 11 Coun. Terry Kett and Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann.
Yes: Ward 7 Coun. Dave Kilgour, Ward 8 Coun. Fabio Belli, Ward 9 Coun. Doug Craig, Ward 10 Coun. Frances Caldarelli and Mayor Marianne Matichuk.