Push to repeal bylaw allowing stores north of Toronto to open on Family Day

Labour groups and some politicians are pushing to repeal a bylaw that allows retailers north of Toronto to stay open on holidays such as Family Day.

Councillors in York Region, which consists of nine municipalities including Markham, Vaughan and Richmond Hill, Ont., voted 17-3 in favour of the Holiday Shopping Bylaw in November.

The legislation exempts all businesses from a provincial law requiring them to close on nine statutory holidays each year. They’re now able to open, if they choose, for 364 days per year — every day except Dec. 25.

The Toronto and York Region Labour Council has drafted a petition urging York Region to reconsider the bylaw, saying the extra days will cut into retail workers’ valuable time with their families.

Labour council president John Cartwright said that in today’s “incredibly fast-paced world,” that time is more important than ever.

“Often, that’s the only guaranteed time that people know they can spend with their families — statutory holidays — and now that’s been stripped away,” he said.

According to the York Region Employment and Industry Report, approximately 64,000 people are employed in the retail sector in the region. Cartwright said many of them work two or three jobs in order to get by.

“You can’t put a roof over your head in the (Greater Toronto Area) working only one job at 14 dollars an hour,” he said.

Ontario’s Retail Business Holidays Act requires retailers to close on New Year’s Day, Family Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

Some businesses are exempted, including gas stations, pharmacies and any business under 225 square metres. The law also permits municipalities to exempt themselves from the requirements.

The Retail Council of Canada applauded York Region’s decision, and said it is now lobbying neighbouring Peel Region to make a similar change.

“Retailers should be deciding at their discretion whether to be open on statutory holidays without restrictions imposed by governments,” the council said in a statement.

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti was one of the three York regional councillors who voted against the bylaw, and he said there’s a growing movement to have it repealed.

“I’m not even sure to what extent local municipalities are aware, or really understand the impacts of this new bylaw,” said Scarpitti, who held an event Friday with labour leaders to raise awareness of the issue.

“The impact of this is not fully felt yet, obviously.”

Cartwright said that many businesses initially called for volunteers to fill shifts on New Year’s Day, when the bylaw took effect, but ended up having to assign shifts.

He said while employees will receive extra pay for working holidays like Family Day, he worries that may not last.

“They used to get overtime pay on Sundays, when Sunday shopping first came in. But what happened over the years is that just became part of the reality,” he said.

“It would only be a matter of time before this becomes the norm for those holidays as well. That’s how the market works, I’m afraid.”

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