05/22/2012 04:22 EDT | Updated 07/22/2012 05:12 EDT

Manitoba eyes revisions to let stores open Sunday mornings

WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government has all but confirmed it is about to expand Sunday shopping hours.

A report from a government-appointed committee released Tuesday recommends the current law, which allows most retailers to open only between noon and 6 p.m., be loosened to allow stores to open three hours earlier at 9 a.m. Labour Minister Jennifer Howard seemed to like the idea.

"In the past, I've taken the consensus of the Labour-Management Review Committee very seriously," Howard said.

"When both labour and business come together and find an area where they can agree, I think you have to take that seriously."

Howard was to reveal details Wednesday when she is scheduled to table a bill to amend the province's Sunday shopping law. The move follows public consultations over the last several weeks, in which the committee heard from people who wanted the option of shopping Sunday morning.

"When I've talked to people in the past ... it's always been about Sunday mornings, people wanting to have that extra time," Howard said.

Business groups have long complained that noon openings drive customers to shop online or south of the border. Some called on the government to have no restrictions on shopping hours, leaving the decision up to each retailer.

Howard appeared to quash that idea.

"A lot of people also see Sunday evening as that time for families to come together, have Sunday dinner together, so they were looking for some protection of that time as well."

The final decision will rest with municipal governments. As under the current law, stores can only open on Sundays if municipal councils pass bylaws allowing it. They would have to pass new bylaws to adopt the extended hours.

The bill may also expand the current protection for workers who object to working on Sundays. The review committee is recommending tougher enforcement — that employers who fire or discriminate against such employees be ordered to compensate or reinstate them.

The changes would not affect the six annual holidays when most stores are barred from opening at any time. When Howard launched the consultations in April, she made it clear stores will have to remain closed on Christmas Day, New Year's Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Canada Day and Labour Day.