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Council candidates talk Sunday shopping

By: Grant Burr

Posted: 10/7/2018 9:45 PM

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After responding to a question about recreation and culture last week, Steinbach’s three candidates for the mayor’s chair and 10 challengers for council seats are being asked to wade into the issue of Sunday shopping.

This week The Carillon has asked all 13 candidates the following question: The current Steinbach city council recently chose not to hold a referendum on the issue of Sunday shopping. Do you think council should create a bylaw to allow Sunday shopping in the city? How do you think council should gauge support for the creation of such a bylaw?

Mayoral candidate John Fehr says 60.3 percent of people recently surveyed by David Banman felt it should be left up to the businesses to decide if they wanted to be open Sunday and 80 percent of businesses said in a Chamber of Commerce survey that businesses did not want to be open Sundays.

Fehr said he has received many emails telling him that they moved to Steinbach because they like the fact there is no Sunday shopping.

"I believe that given the opportunity, very few people would decline an opportunity to shop Sunday but statistics show that for most businesses the return does not offset the extra costs to be open Sunday," he said.

Fehr also wonders if people should instead ask the question, would they make themselves available to work Sundays.

"It’s difficult to get staff to work Saturdays, never mind Sunday. In speaking with many of my business colleagues they all tell me they experience the same thing. That is why I did not support a plebiscite on Sunday shopping," he said.

Earl Funk says he is content with the way things are today.

"I like what we have in Steinbach right now. Sunday is a day that is currently recognized as a family day…a day to slow down and rest, a day to reconnect with friends. Any given Sunday you can see families playing in our parks, biking or walking on our pathways," the candidate for mayor said.

"It is part of our heritage, and it makes us unique. Some of the candidates, myself included, have stated that they will build on or preserve Steinbach's heritage. Recognizing Sunday as a special day definitely is a part of our heritage."

Funk says in the last three months while door knocking, most residents support his position.

"So at this time I don't think that it would be wise to make a bylaw to allow Sunday shopping. Before we make a decision I would also like to hear from our business community, so we will be able to make a balanced decision."

Listening, or not listening, is key for mayoral candidate Paul Neustaedter.

"The current city council has illustrated again, that it is not interested in listening to the citizens of our community," he said.

"I believe that ‘not listening’ is the issue here, as the council should be listening and trying to understand where a community is at," he said.

"The city has missed an inexpensive way to hear the true voice of the community in a referendum," Neustaedter said.

"I’ve been going door to door and I get a strong sense that people like the community the way it is as it relates to ‘a place where most people do not have to work on Sundays.’

"I’ve heard people say, ‘We’ve had shopping for twenty years on Sunday as we go to Winnipeg’, or ‘Sunday is our family day"’

He said he has also heard other strong feelings about wanting to be able to shop on Sunday in Steinbach, specifically in the area of obtaining a prescription in difficult or medical emergency circumstances.

"When asking local people about issues that are important to them, by far the majority has told me that they do not want Sunday shopping or their children working on Sunday."

Councillor candidates shop their positions

Incumbent Michael Zwaagstra says he isn’t in favour of passing a bylaw to allow Sunday shopping, which is governed by the province’s Retail Businesses Holiday Closing Act.

"I believe that our city benefits from having a day where most people do not have to work and can spend time with their families," he says, noting that many business owners in Steinbach apparently agree with two separate surveys conducted in recent years by the Steinbach Chamber of Commerce indicating that most of its members were not interested in opening on Sundays.

"Throughout my time on council, I have been clear about my position on this issue and have not tried to straddle the fence in a futile attempt to appeal to both sides. When the Sunday shopping issue comes up at the door, I give the same answer to everyone, regardless of whether I am speaking to someone who supports Sunday shopping or someone who does not. The people of Steinbach deserve to have elected representatives who clearly state their beliefs and stand behind them."

Candidate Cyndy Friesen notes that this issue has been discussed for the past eight years and cites articles back to 2010 that indicate that retailers have inquired to city council about the possibility of opening on Sundays with no luck.

"I believe that it’s time to give our constituents the opportunity to express their views," Friesen said.

"I would support holding a referendum on the issue of Sunday shopping and taking this information into account when basing my decision surrounding this issue."

Incumbent Jac Siemens put forward a motion, which was ultimately defeated, to add a Sunday shopping question to the Oct. 24 ballot.

"I saw it as an opportunity to hear from the public at no additional cost to the city. In the past city council has addressed the Sunday shopping question by seeking feedback from the Steinbach Chamber. The question on the ballet would have been a way to hear from the general public on the issue."

As he campaigns door to door, Siemens says the response to Sunday shopping has been varied.

"I would estimate that 20 percent are very opposed and 20 percent are in favor and the rest don’t have a strong opinion either way," he said.

"For myself today I would vote no to Sunday shopping for the simple reason that I like Sundays as being a different type of day and makes us different from other communities. Additionally, I don’t have a clear understanding of how much it would change Steinbach, for the positive or negative. A much larger issue that will face our retail stores in the near future is online shopping and that happens any time."

Candidate Adam Crookes says the topic isn’t one that comes up often as he goes door to door, but acknowledges it is a topic that has generated much discussion.

"There really are two very different cases that seem to be coming forth, and they're completely different. The one case is that we're too big of a city to not offer the services that a normal city of our size offers, whether this is due to work schedules, or due to our lives being very busy the rest of the week. There are times where on a Sunday you need something that you just can't get with the current businesses that are open," he said.

"The other case is that Steinbach is a unique, quiet community where people come to raise a family, or where they have lived their whole life and choose to stay in this community due to it feeling special and somewhat relaxed on a Sunday."

Crookes says it is impossible to satisfy all these lifestyles, so a choice needs to be made.

"I can appreciate the current council not wanting to deal with this current discussion as some of their terms are coming to an end, but I feel at some point in the next term the taxpayers of this city will demand a referendum to see where the majority lies."

Bill Hiebert agrees that he has heard very little feedback about the issue on Steinbach doorsteps, but those who have more often have expressd a desire for shopping to remain closed on Sundays.

"Traditionally we have not had the option and personally I kind of like it that way. Being closed on Sundays makes our community feel very peaceful, it forces us to slow down in an otherwise very fast paced society and presents a great opportunity for family time. I am a believer that strong families are what make a healthy vibrant community."

He points to members of the city’s Filipino community and how they often gather in parks for family picnics on Sundays.

"I would hate to see weekend work schedules getting in the way of families spending time together. I realize not everyone is going to agree with my sentiment or my family’s traditions, however when it comes down to it, I do not believe this decision should be in the hands of city council," he said.

"As it has already been stated in the media our chamber of commerce has voted on this matter and have chosen against it, rightly so. This decision needs to be in the hands of the business owners of Steinbach, as these are the people who will need to carry the weight of the decision, staffing and often working those extra hours themselves."

Incumbent Susan Penner says, though not personally opposed to Sunday shopping, in her campaigning that she has heard significantly more feedback from residents who would prefer to keep Sundays the way they are.

"According to the Chamber of Commerce, most businesses would prefer to be closed on Sundays to let their employees have a day off," Penner said, noting that even stores that are allowed to be open under the current legislation, like Shoppers Drug Mart, choose not to be.

"I believe having a quieter day on Sunday is a part of what makes Steinbach unique," she said, noting she would not support creating a bylaw at this time.

Candidate Alan Wiebe says people in Steinbach have waited long enough for a decision on Sunday shopping.

"Sunday shopping should be allowed in Steinbach," he said.

"The option should be available in Steinbach so that individuals and businesses can make their own choices about participating in the economy on Sunday."

Wiebe says a referendum would allow Steinbach to make a decision once and for all.

"That’s because people in Steinbach expect a stronger voice on local decisions. The future of public policy at City of Steinbach should be informed by a strategy for public engagement. Public engagement uses all the tools available in our society to make sure that everyone can be represented with an equal voice on important decisions."

Wiebe is advocating for a public engagement officer to provide objective measurements of public support for policy initiatives.

"A public engagement plan also makes the decision making process more informed, effective, and efficient. Such a plan will help council determine the best strategy in the future for making inclusive, objective, and timely decisions about the most important items on today’s agenda."

More than any other issue, Damian Penner says Sunday shopping is the topic of most discussion as he canvasses the community, with different arguments on both side of the issue.

"I feel now was a favorable time to hold a non-binding referendum to gather information from the voting public for the businesses to take into consideration," he said.

"I personally look at the Sunday shopping by-law as something bigger than just being able to engage in commerce on Sunday. The question I asked myself is, "When should the government be able to dictate what private businesses can or cannot do in their operations?"

"I feel government should not be able to have control of when a private business can choose to engage in commerce. So to summarize, am I an advocate for Sunday shopping? Not directly, however I am an advocate for less government involvement in private citizens’ affairs, and therefore would look at passing a Sunday shopping bylaw when a local business voices that they feel they could benefit from being open on Sunday."

Candidate Mitesh Kumar says he believes referendums should be used with great caution after exploring all options on merits.

"As a councillor candidate I strongly voiced for referendum on Sunday shopping, because city council have failed to properly exercise all options to listen, collaborate and understand residents’ opinion and concerns," he said.

"Most people including me, personally like status quo but because of attitude of current city council and the way this have been handled, general public opinion right now is in support of bringing a bylaw to allow Sunday shopping. This could have been prevented with right approach and by giving proper time, attention by current council, as majority of residents love this unique feature of our community."

Kumar allowed that residents do share some genuine concern about prescription drugs availability on Sunday, employment and other situations which make Sunday more suitable for them to shop.

"Regardless of my personal opinion, I would support bylaw if that's what Steinbach residents want me to do as their voice at council."

Candidate Jake Hiebert says he has spoken to well over 500 people regarding Sunday shopping and 35 percent are in favour.

"Of these, most do not want to work nor do they want their children to work on a Sunday," Hiebert said.

"Most described Sunday in Steinbach as a quiet and tranquil setting that they appreciated. Some people said they moved to Steinbach with this value motivating their decision. People travelling to Costco or Rona or specialty stores in Winnipeg will continue this Sunday shopping trek."

Hiebert says business owners expect to see the same revenue spread over seven days, rather than six, but would require additional staffing too.

He, like Bill Hiebert, takes note of the city’s Filipino community and its appreciation for a family day on Sunday.

"I realize it won’t be long till Sunday shopping will be a reality," he said.

"Is now the time to ask ourselves ‘as a community are we willing to arbitrarily surrender such values in order to promote commerce and convenience’? Not being judgmental…just asking the question."

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