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Holiday shopping change deferred by council

Last Updated: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 | 7:06 PM ET

Under the current bylaws only certain Toronto retailers, including the Eaton Centre, are allowed to open on statutory holidays. Council is debating whether to allow other retailers to open on those days.Under the current bylaws only certain Toronto retailers, including the Eaton Centre, are allowed to open on statutory holidays. Council is debating whether to allow other retailers to open on those days. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

After a lengthy debate, Toronto city council has decided to maintain the status quo when it comes to shopping on statutory holidays.

Under the existing bylaw, only certain Toronto retailers, including the Eaton Centre and parts of Yonge Street, are allowed to open on statutory holidays. Council debated on Wednesday whether to allow other retailers to open on those days.

Instead of making a change, council decided it needs more time to study the bylaw and opted to defer the decision.

After sailing through the economic development committee, it looked like the proposal had a real chance. Then a strongly worded letter from the Canadian Auto Workers was circulated urging council to reject it.

The CAW says the plan is driven by the retail sector and has not offered workers a chance to be heard.

Ian Cameron speaks for hundreds CAW workers at Metro and Sobeys supermarkets.

Cameron worries that employees will be forced to work on holidays.

"If [management] wants a part-time kid to work and he won't work, management will just say to him 'fine, I don't have any hours next week,'" said Cameron. "[Workers] don't want it, they want their days off. It's the only days they are guaranteed off and they want them. They want to be able to spend Christmas with their families."

Others had so-called "family values" concerns, arguing holidays like Christmas and Easter are for family, not shopping.

For city staff who supported the plan, it was about fairness and allowing all business owners to open when they want, particularly those who don't observe Christian holdays.

Now the move to allow holiday store openings has gone back to the drawing board, with instructions for council to consult more deeply with workers.

For retiring councillor Kyle Rae, a proponent of the idea, the decision to defer is a step backward. Rae says this will just allow an unfair retail situation to continue.

"Toronto is conservative and doesn't want to change," he said.

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