Manitoba may limit what big-box stores can sell in partial lockdown, Pallister says

The Manitoba government is thinking of going after big-box stores, whom Premier Brian Pallister argues may be flouting the spirit of the province's lockdown orders.

Many still shopping in-store as some big retailers 'abusing' Manitoba's public-health orders: premier

Shoppers waited in lineups to get into a big-box store on Monday morning. Mayor Brian Bowman is concerned that people are still attending large stores to purchase non-essential goods (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The Manitoba government is thinking of going after big-box stores, whom Premier Brian Pallister argues may be flouting the spirit of the province's lockdown orders. 

Many large retailers can legally stay open because they sell products considered essential by Manitoba's public-health orders, but Pallister said it is unfair to force small businesses to close while their big competitors sell the same products as them, and then some.

"The reality of this situation is that some are abusing this," the premier said.

"And for the danger of other people, some are abusing it to gain business advantage. That's not a situation we can maintain."

He said preventing big-box stores from selling products that aren't considered essential is clearly "one element that has to be looked at," Pallister said.

The premier said Ralph Eichler, his economic development minister, is speaking with small business groups to hear their concerns, and Pallister expects to have more to share on the topic in a few days.

Some defying spirit of public health order: Pallister

The latest restrictions, which came into effect last Thursday, require all non-essential retail stores to close to in-person shopping. Essential products include groceries, personal hygiene items, hardware and household appliances.

Pallister said the purpose of the public-health order was "to make sure that people to get essential goods, I don't think it was so they could get non-essential goods. I'm concerned about that."

Big-box stores can sell a wide swath of non-essential products, ranging from clothing to jewellery and toys.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman asked the province to clamp down on non-essential sales in a letter to the premier on Monday. He wants businesses to only be able to sell essential products and services in-person.

Manitoba's big retailers are facing flak for selling a mix of essential and non-essential goods. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

"Since these provincial orders came into effect on Thursday, Nov. 12, we have witnessed a significant number of residents attending large commercial establishments, in-person, to purchase non-essential goods and services," the letter said.

"Obviously, this raises serious concerns that community transmission of COVID-19 is not being mitigated as much as possible."

Dr. Brent Roussin hinted Monday the province may have to reconsider what it deems essential, as many of these businesses were mainly selling non-essential goods.

He said parking lots teeming with vehicles was evidence the 25 per cent capacity limits weren't being followed.

"We saw examples of stores that were open as if there is no such thing as COVID," Roussin said.

Roussin said these businesses will be fined if they ignore capacity limits going forward.

WATCH | Dr. Brent Roussin explains how public health will evaluate essential businesses going forward:

What does 'critical' mean for Manitoba businesses?

2 years ago
Duration 0:56
Dr. Brent Roussin says Manitoba public health will be taking steps to further define what essential businesses are, as well as further enforcing capacity limits to limit crowding.

Danali owner Aubrey Margolis said his frustration with closing his clothing retailer is amplified by the steady customer traffic at bigger stores.

"I did notice that people are walking out of the stores with non-essential items, certain electronics and what have you."

Ogo Okwumabua, co-owner of Zueike Apparel, said the province would demonstrate its sincerity in flattening the COVID-19 curve if it took action against the largest stores.

"If we're going to be serious, you can't really be like, 'Hey small guys, you shut down,'" Okwumabua said, noting the big-box stores are the ones that will have the full parking lots, not them.

Chuck Davidson, head of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, said the idea of limiting what the big stores sell has merit, but individual Manitobans have a duty themselves to reduce the number of shopping trips they take.

"Do we want to spend all of our time, roping off parts of stores and all those measures? I don't think that's a good use of our time," Davidson said.

"I really think it's incumbent upon Manitobans to simply follow the rules."

WATCH | Some retailers 'abusing' Manitoba's public-health orders:

Some retailers 'abusing' Manitoba's public-health orders

2 years ago
Duration 2:04
The Manitoba government is thinking of going after big-box stores, whom Premier Brian Pallister argues may be flouting the spirit of the province's lockdown orders.


  • An earlier version of this story said that Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman's letter was made public by his office. In fact, the letter was not made public, but was obtained by CBC News.
    Nov 16, 2020 6:24 PM CT


Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. He previously reported on a bit of everything for newspapers. You can reach him at

With files from Austin Grabish, Bartley Kives and Sean Kavanagh


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