Sudbury city council wants to ask voters three referendum questions about store hours in the next election.

But editing the wording of those questions at a Tuesday night meeting brought out flashes of the many "store wars" debates from the past.

The task seemed simple enough.

City staff suggested three questions for a referendum in 2014 —

One on whether stores should set their own hours, instead of the current city bylaw, and two questions about stores opening on Boxing Day and Civic Holiday in August.

Sudbury city councillors spent a good part of the meeting discussing how they will ask the public to settle this long-running dispute.

'Here we go again'

Councillor André Rivest wanted to change the wording because he found the questions "highly misleading."

"There should be something that says 24 hours," he said.

But Rivest was shouted down.

As Sudbury Chamber of Commerce president Debbi Nicholson watched city council argue about words, she noted that — even with some editing — the questions are misleading.

"Here we go again," Nicholson said.

"We seem continually spin in circles, because with the 13 people sitting around the table, I don't think all of them understand the issue."

Nicholson said she would like to see one straight-forward question asking if the city should have the power to tell businesses when they can open and close.

'It's going to be an interesting election'

The president of the Retail Wholesale Department and Store Union also said he thinks the referendum questions are misleading voters.

"Let's be clear here," Derik McArthur said.

"We're asking the public to vote on whether they want to work in the retail business 24 hours a day."

Both organizations will suggest edits to the city in the coming weeks, before the referendum questions are officially set in December.

And both say campaign plans are already in the works, two years before the ballots are even printed.

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Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk

"It's going to be an interesting election. That's all I can say," said Mayor Marianne Matichuk, who campaigned heavily on augmenting store hours in Sudbury.

Councillor Claude Berthiaume then took the discussion down a familiar path.

"Some people have been saying that council is avoiding and passing it on to the public to make a decision," he said.

"We have not."

By the end of the meeting, there were only a few minor revisions.

Some councillors wanted to drop the holiday questions, but that too was struck down by council.