Businesses in the Glebe will be allowed to stay open on six statutory holidays after Ottawa city council approved Wednesday a bylaw to give its business improvement area an exemption from provincial legislation.

​In the best case scenario for Glebe retailers, Victoria Day would be the first holiday all businesses along the Bank Street strip, at Lansdowne Park and on Pretoria Avenue could choose to stay open.

But that's not a certainty because the Ottawa and District Labour Council plans to appeal the exemption at the Ontario Municipal Board.

Seven councillors also opposed the exemption: Jeff Leiper, Catherine McKenney, Riley Brockington, Stephen Blais, Diane Deans, Rick Chiarelli and Keith Egli.

Retailers facing 'difficult retail landscape'

As in any part of the city, some Glebe businesses such as restaurants, the movie theatre and small shops that sell foodstuffs, handicrafts, antiques or tobacco were already allowed to open on statutory holidays

But the Glebe Business Improvement Area applied to be exempted from provincial laws — the first such application the city had received since amalgamation — so that all shops could open on those days.

"The big issue about this for us was about choice. Not every business will ultimately decide to stay open and not every business will choose to stay open on every holiday," said Andrew Peck, executive director of the Glebe BIA. "Businesses need to be able to, in order to thrive, harness the traffic when it's there."

For a city to grant an exemption, Ontario requires the area be reliant on people visiting nearby tourist attractions.

With the 16 - 7 vote at council Wednesday morning, the Glebe retailers join five other areas in Ottawa that are allowed to be open on New Year's, Family Day, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day and Thanksgiving.

Those other areas have had special exemptions for more than twenty years, and include the ByWard Market, the Rideau Centre and businesses in its surrounding business improvement area, as well as the Loblaws on Rideau Street and the Sparks Street Mall. 

Labour organization to file appeal

The Ottawa and District Labour Council intends to appeal the Glebe's new exemption at the Ontario Municipal Board within the next thirty days.

The Glebe BIA said many employees want to work for extra wages on statutory holidays and it intends to give information packages reminding its members about employee rights.

But the labour council's president, Sean McKenny, is concerned employees will lose shifts or even be let go if they don't want to work holidays.

"This matter-of-fact 'Well, a worker can choose to work or not work' is just ludicrous," said McKenny.

McKenny also doesn't believe the Glebe truly meets the province's criteria of being within two kilometres of a tourism attraction.

Parliament Hill is a legitimate building that's an attraction, he said, not the length of a waterway.

City staff considered the Rideau Canal, the Canadian Museum of Nature and Lansdowne Park when assessing whether the Glebe deserved to be exempted from the statutory holiday regulations.

Option to open on holidays could be given to still more businesses

Businesses elsewhere in the city may also be given the option to stay open on statutory holidays in 2017, given that the city is expecting more tourists during Canada's 150th birthday year.

Coun. Allan Hubley asked staff to consult all BIAs, boards of trade and chambers of commerce and other pockets of businesses about the idea of a pilot project.

Then, after 2017, businesses in other parts of the city could decide if they too wanted to seek an exemption as the Glebe has done.

"This would give them hard numbers to say, 'Okay, this is the potential of staying open. This is the cost of staying open. Maybe we don't want to do that,'' said Hubley.