Whenever Nova Scotia finally catches up with the twentieth century and allows Sunday shopping, the system should be voluntary.No one should be forced to go shopping on Sunday against his or her will. If John Hamm wants to spend the entire day in church, he should be free to do so. The rest of Nova Scotia's consenting adults should be free to buy and sell blue jeans and bicycles when and where we see fit. Hamm should get over the notion that being Premier gives him the right to impose his religious views on the rest of the province.That the Premier's personal aversion to commercial transactions on the Lord's Day lies behind the government's failure to join the rest of Canada in allowing kerchiefs and kitty litter to change hands seven days a week can be inferred from the results of a freedom-of-information request by Canadian Press.The news agency asked for all records relating to the Hamm government's review of the Sunday shopping law. Documents released in response show the government acted against the advice of senior officials and advisors. They leave the impression the Premier's personal views killed the proposal.The Justice Department's director of legal services, for example, said the law banning Sunday shopping, "is overdue for a review, having been enacted in an age of different attitudes and lifestyles." The official added, "Some provisions of the act are unclear and the people and businesses impacted deserve clarification."The department's director of communications, Michele McKinnon, chimed in. "Polling trends show public support for Sunday shopping is growing in all areas of the province, most particularly in metro," she said.Later, McKinnon sent an e-mail reporting that "the premier has indicated he is not willing to make changes at this point."Despite a recommendation from the Freedom of Information Review Officer, the government, citing cabinet secrecy, refused to release other records that might have revealed more about the premier's role in killing the deal. Having voiced support for Sunday shopping, McKinnon presumably had to devise the communications strategy promoting the contrary decision. Her boss, Justice Minister Michael Baker, defended the continued ban quicker than you can take a pee break, saying most small- and medium-sized businesses opposed Sunday shopping.The usual non-religious rationale for letting the government decide when people can shop is that retail clerks shouldn't be deprived of a weekend day of rest. Why this should apply to retail workers and not police officers, disk jockeys, security guards, meteorologists, druggists and lifeguards isn't clear. Nor why it should apply to clerks at Sobey's-owned Green Gables stores, but not to clerks at Sobey's supermarkets.However much clerks might dislike working on Sundays, most of them probably would appreciate the chance to shop on Sundays.It's true that retail clerks are among the least powerful of all participants in the job market. Most endure part-time work with few benefits. Few have unions to bargain collectively on their behalf. If the biggest push for round-the-week shopping comes from national retailers and big box stores, perhaps Nova Scotia's belated entry into the twentieth century presents an opportunity to balance the scales. If Sunday shopping would give large retailers something they want, why not throw in a few regulations retail clerks would like, too.The minimum wage could be increased in the retail sector. Mandatory time-and-a-half overtime pay could begin after forty hours in a single week. Employees required to work on Sunday could receive a mandatory shift differential. Prescription drug plans could become a legal requirement for all employees of large retailers.Not being able to shop on Sunday is a damned nuisance. The restriction is, as the government's senior advisors pointed out, an artefact of antique notions about the government's role in promoting religion. Nova Scotians don't need the nanny state to tell us how to spend our Sundays, or our Mondays and Tuesdays. We can figure it out for ourselves, in the privacy of a church pew or the lingerie section of the local Wal-Mart.
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