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PEI's Sunday shopping debate turns personal - and biblical

PEI Opposition Leader Olive Crane debates a bill to loosen restrictions on Sunday shopping on Nov. 25 in the legislature.

God may have injured a leading Prince Edward Island politician because of her push to relax Sunday shopping laws, the government's most outspoken minister suggested as the divisive debate turned personal.

The province bans Sunday shopping for part of the year, the last in the country to have such restrictions, and a private member's bill to loosen the rules squeaked through Thursday evening to third reading.

But not before political jousting in the legislature took on a decidedly Old Testament flavour.

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Amid a series of government questions about the substance of the bill, Transportation Minister Ron MacKinley brought up a recent fall suffered by Progressive Conservative Leader Olive Crane, the author of the bill. Saying that she had done a television interview "pushing Sunday shopping," he noted that she had taken her tumble shortly afterward.

"Does that not tell you anything?" Mr. MacKinley asked to laughs from fellow Liberals on the government benches.

Ms. Crane - her bandaged wrist and crutch evidence of the injuries she had suffered - asked what he meant.

"That the Lord works in mysterious ways," Mr. MacKinley replied, his face deadpan. "Maybe you should start worrying what's going on here. Because we are going all the time, we're getting farther and farther away. Whether it's prayers in the school or whatever it is. We're getting farther away from it. And I think if I was you … I'd pull this bill off the floor and go back and sit down."

His fellow Liberals responded with applause and by thumping their desks.

"That particular comment and some of the reactions were certainly inappropriate," Ms. Crane said in an interview Friday on her way to a physio appointment. "When Mr. MacKinley made the comments he was serious."

Premier Robert Ghiz, who was not present for the exchange, initially told the Charlottetown Guardian that it sounded like a joke. Through a spokesman he declined comment Friday.

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Mr. MacKinley was similarly unavailable. A spokesman said his schedule was too tight to discuss his comments. It was a rare moment of silence for a politician who over 25 years in office has earned a reputation for blunt talk.

The comment was "vintage Ron MacKinley," said University of Prince Edward Island history professor Ian Dowbiggin. He could not remember instances of open religiosity from the politician, but said he never shied away from speaking his mind.

"It's hard to tell with Ronnie whether he's kidding or not," he said. "You never know if he's joking with you or being a straight shooter."

Prof. Dowbiggin noted that Mr. MacKinley wins re-election easily and has a stature in the party dating to the time from 2000 to 2003 when he was the only Liberal in the legislature.

"He's a law unto his own," the professor said. "Nobody would do and say the kinds of things he says and get away with it. And he knows that."

(A video of the exchange can be watched at the PEI legislature's website. The testiness starts at 134 minutes, 26 seconds)

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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