Last week, the Manitoba government expedited the proclamation of new legislation to allow retailers to stay open later on Sundays and on some holidays. Bill 4 – The Retail Business Hours of Operation Act (Various Acts Amended or Repealed) went into effect on Saturday, Dec. 12, at the same time as updated public health orders continued restricting gatherings at private residences and allowing critical retailers to only sell essential items.

“Given the current public health restrictions in place to protect Manitobans, we want to provide flexibility to businesses and customers and allow more opportunity for curbside pickup and delivery options as well as longer in-person shopping hours to minimize crowds,” said Honourable Scott Fielding, Minister of Finance. “During this critical time for retailers across the province, we believe these updated laws will help many businesses with additional revenues as we head into the holiday season.”

In mid-November, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, Retail Council of Canada, and The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce sent an open letter to government requesting they expedite the implementation and passage of Bill 4. This bill eliminates retail shopping hour restrictions so businesses are no longer required to close after 6 p.m. on Sundays and on certain statutory holidays. However, it gives municipalities the authority to pass bylaws, should they prefer to keep some restrictions in place.

According to MCC President & CEO Chuck Davidson, the network has been working to advance this outdated legislation for almost 17 years, and Manitoba is many years behind most other jurisdictions in adapting to the changing retail market.

“Given the current Critical level restrictions facing all retailers across the province, it was so important to pass Bill 4 in time for the holiday season,” said Davidson. “It is our belief that this will help many retailers with additional revenues during this time of year, and it will provide additional opportunities and/or extended times for customers to shop in-store or pick up curbside orders.”

Davidson says that the continued Critical level shut-down is obviously not what the MCC wanted to see.

“The non-essential business closures are literally the worst-case scenario for businesses — to have been shut down for four weeks, and now being forced to endure another four weeks during what is typically the best part of their year…The period from Black Friday to the holiday shopping season represents 30 to 50% of all retail.”

Davidson says that the MCC and industry partners recommended other possible measures to government that could provide support to businesses struggling amid the restrictions.

“We suggested a 15% capacity for non-essential retail, and we suggested that government consider lifting the red restrictions in certain areas of the province where the case numbers are lower, as per the Pandemic Response System. Unfortunately, we understand that the number one priority right now is getting the COVID situation under control.”

The MCC has been working hard to allocate funds from the Province of Manitoba’s Shop Local initiative to local Chambers of Commerce who are supporting businesses in their communities with innovative campaigns. The MCC is also currently adjudicating business submissions to the Safe at Home Manitoba Grant program.

Davidson says that local retailers and restaurants/bars must investigate every possible avenue to generate sales and access support.

“It’s absolutely crucial for the SMEs to apply for the provincial Bridge Grant — which allots a $5,000 grant for storefront and home-based businesses that have been forced to close — and for all business eaders to explore federal funding options. But it’s also essential for them to be building digital capacity so that they can push online options and curbside pickup.”

“And our message to all Manitobans right now: local, local, local. We need our diverse local business landscape to weather this storm, so do everything you can to invest in your local entrepreneurs.”

Click here to hear from Chuck Davidson about Critical level restrictions (Red) and Bill 4 on CTV Morning Live with Katherine Dow.

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