Oct. 8 column: Sunday Shopping

‘Bold’ leadership or caving to reality

I couldn’t help but wonder whether my usually button-downed, clear-headed colleague David Rodenhiser had been smoking something illegal (perhaps in preparation for a screening of Trailer Park Boys: The Movie

) when he sat down at his computer to write his Thursday column on Nova Scotia’s new Sunday shopping non-law.

David praised Premier Rodney MacDonald’s decision to collapse like a pricked balloon in the face of the ruling by the Supreme Court that his Sunday shopping regulations were discriminatory and beyond the powers of his provincial cabinet as "the right decision… perfectly in keeping with one of the primary principles of conservatism." And then he went on to anoint the head of the government that had created those discriminatory, dumb-as-a-door-post regulations in the first place as not only a "bold" leader but perhaps so brilliantly "Machiavellian" as to have orchestrated the whole dog’s breakfast to achieve this week’s results.

Please pass me a hit of whatever it is you’re doing, David.

Methinks my fellow scribbler gives a desperate, floundering leader of a desperate, floundering government way too much credit for still more desperate floundering.

No matter which side of the Sunday shopping divide you find yourself on, the fact is the MacDonald government juggled this issue with all the grace and dexterity of an armless man.

It is true, as David points out, that MacDonald did not create the Sunday shopping conundrum; he inherited it from the previous government — one in which he was, of course, a minister. During last fall’s provincial Progressive Conservative leadership campaign, MacDonald had an opportunity to put forth his own policy on Sunday shopping. He chose not to. During last spring’s provincial election campaign, after it became clear that the big supermarket chains were prepared to defy the province’s exemption-laden Retail Business Uniform Closing Day Act, our by-then premier once again had an opportunity to demonstrate those "primary principles of conservatism." He didn’t.

Instead, when faced with the reality that the supermarkets were using the government’s own loopholes against it by creating stores-within-stores-within-stores, the newly elected government showed its visionary mettle by creating a new and even more discriminatory loophole, and, of course, much lucrative if useless employment for way too many lawyers.

When Supreme Court Justice Peter Richard did what virtually everyone expected him to do and ruled that the "cabinet cannot discriminate either as to the size of the retail outlet or the corporate structure of it without the requisite regulatory power," Premier MacDonald did not so much show leadership as recognize reality when it slapped him yet again in the face.

As David points out, the premier did have options. He could have brought in new legislation to try and do what he had failed to do with regulation. But he had to know he could not have gotten it passed in the current minority legislature. Or he could have attempted to bumble through, allowing Sobeys and Superstore to use the court ruling to continue to open their jerry-built stores on Sundays, while hoping against hope that the Wal-Marts and their big-box brethren did not decide to widen the war. Which he had to know they would.

So he did what he did. He caved. And tried to make it sound like bold leadership.

The only surprise is that my friend David drank the Kool Aid. Or whatever…


If our premier wants to show real leadership, he might begin by following suggestions in a letter sent to him this past week by Jim Turk, the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. In it, Turk calls on the government to fire the entire board of the Capital District Health Authority for perpetrating “one of the most flagrant injustices faced by a clinical faculty member in Canada” in the Gabrielle Horne affair, and to bring in new medical disciplinary regulations to prevent such a “travesty” from happening again.

Horne, a “globally pioneering” medical researcher spent the last four years in a Kafkaesque limbo thanks to the board’s many and various failures — not to forget the government’s failure to “accept responsibility for fixing the situation.”

The fiasco not only destroyed Horne’s career and research but has also cost Nova Scotians millions in wasted legal expenses that could — and should — have been spent on health care.

And the costs will only keep rising if the board — which recently blamed the victim while finally reluctantly admitting it had no case against her — is allowed to continue to run amok.

Will the premier show leadership here? Don’t hold your breath… or, maybe, do…

Stephen Kimber, the Maclean Hunter Professor of Journalism at the University of King’s College, is the author of five nonfiction books as well as a novel, Reparations, which was published this spring by HarperCollins.

  1. morning.just read your article this morning about the macdonald gov. caving in..when hamm let pete l. stay open,and not other big stores, the stage.you got to treat them all equal..i don’t want the gov. speading any more money on this foolishness.what you do for one, you do for the all..thanks,d


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