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Making Waves

Lament for Sears Employees – And Canadian Values

By Trent Gow

When I was a child in Toronto, it was a rare treat to go down to the corner of Queen and Yonge streets and explore the many offerings of the two mighty retail giants located there: Simpson's and Eaton's. These exciting retail adventures were complemented by the much-anticipated quarterly arrival in our homes of thick seasonal mail order catalogues. Little did any of us know then that it was closest we would come for many years to experiencing the vast choice and convenience that we now take for granted through the internet.

But times changed. After a brief marriage with the US giant Sears Roebuck, Simpson's was acquired by the Hudson Bay Company and disappeared. And Sears Roebuck moved on to establish its own Canadian subsidiary, Sears Canada, which acquired and then disposed of Eaton's.

It was the end of a golden era, But another modern era – dare I call it the plastic era - seamlessly took the baton and thrived for another 30 years or so thereafter. The Bay, as it is now called, and Sears Canada flourished. Many retail malls across Canada had one or both as anchor tenants. But now, that era too is coming to an inglorious close. And this time future prospects are much dimmer

In June, Sears Canada announced plans to close 59 locations across the country and cut approximately 2,900 jobs under a court-supervised restructuring. Then, just three weeks ago the company obtained additional court approval to liquidate the 130 remaining stores, leaving around 12,000 employees without jobs. Employees and pensioners have already been cut adrift with little or no severance, no life insurance or health benefits and pension entitlement that has been reduced by almost 20 per cent.

It truly is a tragedy – and represents the tip of a much larger iceberg. There are many villains including rapacious corporate owners and the incompetent Ontario government which has regulatory responsibility to protect those employed in the retail sector. But that's the very serious subject matter for another commentary by me, a comprehensive audit by the Ontario Auditor General and a defining verdict by Ontario voters next June.

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