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Siemens encourages Sunday shopping discussion

Referendum pitch falls short

By: Grant Burr

Posted: 08/8/2018 7:25 AM

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Councillor Jac Siemens said on Tuesday night he is happy with the state of Sunday shopping in Steinbach, but still drew his fellow council members into a debate on the merits of a referendum question on the subject come this October.

Former city councillor David Banman challenged city council in June to think about the possibility of allowing for Sunday shopping and followed that presentation up with a letter to council that was received at Tuesday's council meeting. In it, Banman asked the city to hold a plebiscite on the issue in conjunction with October's municipal election.

"Past and present councils have taken a rather benign path in dealing with this issue, and I believe it is time for the people of Steinbach to be heard," Banman wrote.

A local bylaw is required to allow for Sunday shopping, which is restricted by the province under the Retail Businesses Holiday Closing Act.

Council has already voted in favour of asking a referendum question in October on the subject of allowing retail cannabis sales.

"I'm very happy with the current arrangement," Siemens told The Carillon, though he lamented how council has dealt with the subject in the past. "What has bothered me about this process is that we don't have the discussion in council, we have it everywhere else, but it doesn't take place in the council chamber."

So, Siemens attempted to prompt a little conversation on the subject, efforts that ended in a 5-2 vote against the idea of adding a referendum question.

Siemens told his council colleagues that the non-binding vote could gather feedback from the general public. In the past, Siemens noted the city has turned to the Steinbach Chamber of Commerce for input when the issue of Sunday shopping has been raised. In addition to a referendum, Siemens said a survey of the chamber members should be solicited again too.

Siemens' motion was supported by Councillor Cari Penner who concurred that council hears lots of opinions but has not had a clear guideline that a referendum response could provide.

But the support stopped with her. Councillors John Fehr and Earl Funk, both running for mayor, each made their case against the idea.

"I'm going to defer to the business community that I've mostly been in communication with," Fehr said, "I believe that a referendum may well favour Sunday shopping. I don't know whether I'm want to put my fellow businesspeople in a position where they have to be open and don't want to be open."

"Maybe I run in all the wrong circles but I just haven't heard enough of a case for Sunday shopping," Funk said. "I don't know that there is enough appetite for this."

Councillor Susan Penner noted how she has received feedback from people concerned about a change to Steinbach's unique character, if Sunday shopping were allowed. While Councillor Michael Zwaagstra reminded his colleagues that Steinbach continues to enjoy strong growth.

"I remember hearing the rumours that if we didn't have Sunday shopping we wouldn't get Superstore," he recalled. "We got Superstore. If we didn't have Sunday shopping we wouldn't get Walmart. And yet, we have all these stores, so clearly our current arrangement, with partial Sunday shopping, has not hindered our economic growth."

Mayor Chris Goertzen said he wouldn't support putting the issue to a referendum, noting his position against "governing by referendum" matched his opposition to putting cannabis sales to a public vote.

"Sunday shopping is a whole other question that we can deal with at council at this table. We don’t need a referendum," he said.

Though his motion went down in defeat, Siemens was still in good spirits that council had at least debated the subject and responded directly to Banman’s request.

"What is important to me is that we have that discussion in council so that whether it should be on the ballot or not, not whether we should have Sunday shopping or not."

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