The Nova Scotia government has swung the door to Sunday shopping wide open now that the province's Supreme Courthas sided with two grocery chains.
In aruling released Wednesday, Justice Peter Richardsaid the government went beyond its powers with regulations introduced in June that prevented Sobeys and Atlantic Superstore from selling products seven days a week.
Shortly after, Premier Rodney MacDonald said the government will not appeal the ruling and it will clear the way for Sunday shopping.
"The rules will be the same for all retail outlets, creating a level playing field for all retailers in Nova Scotia, regardless of what they sell," he said.
Retail stores of all kinds can open on Sundays and other holidays, starting this weekend. The only exception is Remembrance Day, which is covered under a separate law.
Political hot potato
The issue of Sunday shopping has been a political hot potato for MacDonald, and he acknowledged the government's move goes well beyondthe court ruling.
"We don't want to continue in this endless debate on the issue of Sunday shopping," the premier told reporters.
He promised new legislation in the fall to protect the rights of workers on Sundays.
Howard Epstein, the NDP's economic development critic, said Nova Scotians who don't want to work on Sunday need to be protected.
"The regulations that have been brought in so far have really proven to be completely ineffective," he said. "They're full of gaps and, in the end, are written in a way that don't protect anybody."
Any new rules should alsoprotect small businesses in malls from being forced to open, Epstein added.
Chamber applauds move
The Halifax Chamber of Commerce, a vocal proponent for more Sunday shopping, is applauding the government's decision.
"I think the writing was on the wall for the province," said spokeswoman Nancy Conrad. "I think they just suddenly said, 'With this court decision let's do the right thing now.' "
Nova Scotia was one of the last provinces to place Sunday restrictions on retailers.
Pharmacies and boutiques were permitted to open, but stores with more than 4,000 square feet of retail space were not.
Stores were subdivided to avoid rule
In June, Sobeys and Atlantic Superstore began to subdivide their stores into separate businesses to get around the size restrictions.
Critics said this violated the spirit of the Sunday shopping law and a 2004 plebiscite, in which a slight majority of voters opted to maintain the status quo.
When cabinet approved regulations closing this legal loophole, the two grocery giants asked the court to have the new rules tossed out.
Superstore and Sobeys said the regulations were discriminatory and unfair, and argued cabinet didn't have the authority to approve them.
Sobeys spokesman Gerald Weseen saidthechain is "very pleased" with the court's decision and willfocus on opening all sections of its 21 stores this Sunday.