quebec's store opening hours law
Quebec yields on store hours
The Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Page Name: Editorial
Byline: Brigitte Pellerin
Column: Brigitte Pellerin
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
Ah, Christmas. Time to relax and enjoy the company of loved ones, or at any rate the food they prepared and the booze they're willing to share.
After all, as TLC's Life Lesson #40 so wisely mandates, "If you're not in the holiday spirit, just fake it." (It's easier than trying to explain why you hate Christmas, trust me.) But it's hard to do when your quest for the perfect last-minute gift is hampered by ridiculously restrictive shopping laws.
With 11 days until Christmas and all this shopping left to do, when will you possibly find time to drive across town, not find a parking spot within five kilometres of the mall door and run frantically from one similar store to another hoping the small hand you're clutching belongs to your boot-dragging, mitt-losing four-year-old, not somebody else's?
That's why I was pleased recently to learn that some 50 Wal-Mart stores (including two in Ottawa) would be open 24 hours a day next week. As the company's chief operating officer, Vi Konkle, explained: "Whether it's an hour here and there or 'round-the-clock openings, our customers have told us that extending store hours is the best service improvement we can offer before Christmas."
You betcha. I, for one, take great pleasure in living within walking distance of a large drugstore that's open around the clock every day of the year. Not that I ever shop in the middle of the night. But what if I needed to? Some of us can't always shop during business hours because we work late or have to drive the kids from hockey to piano lessons after dinner or simply because we can't stand crowds. And sometimes we forget stuff. Plus this ought to be a free country, where adults are left alone to decide when they shop and whether they want to accept night-time employment. Why should the government get involved in our shopping habits? But it does. Especially you-know-where.
The Wal-Mart press release takes pains to explain that "due to local restrictions," none of their stores in Quebec will be open around the clock. Provincial law there dictates that most stores can only open with a full complement of staff between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. weekdays, and 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekends. There are exceptions, notably for bookstores, drugstores, corner stores, grocery stores and liquor stores. But outside the aforementioned hours, most stores can only operate with a maximum of four employees.
Obviously that leads to wretched service -- or more precisely, wretched lack thereof -- especially agonizingly long checkout queues at the grocery store. If you realize too late that you've forgotten to buy some cretons for the non-Quebecois friend who's coming over Saturday night, chances are you'll have to wait half an hour for the privilege of buying groceries at 5:45 p.m. (And once you finally reach the cash register you're liable to encounter an employee who's extremely surly from being yelled at and abused by even surlier customers and just isn't managing to fake the holiday spirit.)
So, in order to help Quebecers fake it better, the Liberal government of Jean Charest recently suggested the law should be relaxed a bit to give people more choices about when they go grocery shopping. Which of course raised howls of outrage throughout the land -- well, the bits of it occupied by union activists and their political friends over at the Parti Quebecois. Apparently freedom of shopping choice is a totally anti-solidarity thing.
Why? Because it would amount to giving precedence to the right to the 11 p.m. veal cutlet at the expense of Quebec's famous -- at least in theory -- "conciliation travail-famille" (family-work balance). Or so said Henri Masse, president of the Federation des travailleurs du Quebec, the province's largest union.
See, if grocery stores were convenient places to shop, it would ruin Quebecers' family life. Apparently most people would be forced to work in supermarkets late into the night so a handful of people could shop there. Or, to put it another way, in order to deprive folks of the chance to get jobs they badly need, the union wants thousands of Quebecers to spend an extra hour away from their children in the evening stuck in an unnecessary line at the grocery store. Yeah, that makes sense.
To its credit, the government ignored the opposition and imposed closure this week to pass a new law "liberalizing" grocery shopping. So now the four-employee limit will only kick in after 8 p.m. on weekends and 9 p.m. on weeknights.
This year, Quebecers will at least be able to experience, or fake, the early evening holiday spirit at home with their family instead of in a grocery store lineup. Yay.
Brigitte Pellerin's column appears Tuesday and Thursday.
In response to Brigitte Pellerin's column from December 14th, about store opening hours in Québec:
Miss Pellerin, you complain about the fact that parents lose 1 hour waiting in line at the grocery store, time that could be spend with their children. But what about the other parents, standing behind the cash, serving customers 24 hours a day, don't they also deserve to spend time with their children, and not in a grocery store at 3am? Last time I checked, grocery stores weren't run by robots just yet, even though many customers see grocery store workers this way...