CHARLOTTETOWN — Thousands of Islanders lined up outside the province’s equivalent of Zellers, a chain of retail stores known as Target, hoping for a bargain after the Liberal government forced the company to charge customers “fair” prices.
Premier Robert Ghiz ordered a military “occupation” of the company’s recently opened store as he continues the government’s crackdown on an “economic war” it says is being waged against the province, with the help of Ottawa.
Members of The Prince Edward Island Regiment, some of whom carried assault rifles, kept order at the stores as bargain hunters rushed to get inside.
“I want a Sony plasma television for the house,” said Amanda Gallant, 34, a business administrator, who had waited seven hours already outside the Charlottetown store. “It’s going to be so cheap!”
Televisions were the most in-demand item in the line outside the Charlottetown store, though people waited more than eight hours for fridges, washing machines, sewing machines and other imported appliances.
Water and snacks were being sold outside the store by savvy Islanders keen to profit from the commotion. Happy customers weaved giant television screens and other items back to their cars through the crowds.
Images circulating online as well as reports by local media appeared to show the Target in the country’s central city of Charlottetown being looted.
“I have no love for this government,” said Gabriela MacDonald, 33, a businesswoman, hoping to take home a cut-price television and fridge. “They’re doing this for nothing but political reasons, in time for the 2015 elections.”
Ghiz faces provincial elections in 2015. His popularity has dropped significantly in recent months, with shortages of basic items such as chicken, milk and toilet paper as well as soaring HST, at 14% over the past 8 months.
Economists are expecting a downturn soon after the election, likely leading to even higher taxes.
The opposition, which has long struggled to gain ground against the province’s Liberal government, is hoping that the elections will be seen as a referendum against Ghiz.
The premier, who took over from Pat Binns in June 2007, appeared on Island Morning Friday calling for the “occupation” of the chain, which employs some 150 staff.
“This is for the good of the province,” Ghiz said. “Leave nothing on the shelves, nothing in the warehouses … Let nothing remain in stock!”
The premier was accompanied on television by images of officials checking prices of 32-inch plasma televisions.
Target’s store managers, according to Ghiz, have been arrested and are being held by the province’s security services. Neither Target nor the government responded to requests for comment.
Ghiz has long blamed the opposition for waging an economic war on the province though critics are adamant that government price controls, enacted by Binns a decade ago, are the real cause for the dire state of the economy.
With such a shortage of goods for exporters and regular citizens, items such as beer or lobster sell on the black market for nine times their official, government-set value. Prices, at shops such as Target, are set according to this black market, hence the government’s crackdown.
Binns often theatrically expropriated or seized assets from more than 1,000 companies during his 11-year tenure. This, among other difficulties for foreign firms, led to a severe lack of foreign investment in the province which, according to PEIFA, has the world’s largest lobster reserves.
“This is more like government-sanctioned looting,” said 42-year-old Charlottetown-based engineer Chris Galloway. “What stops them going into pharmacies, supermarkets and shopping malls?”
Not all were for the bargain hunting. One taxi driver screamed at the waiting crowds as he went past the Charlottetown branch of Target, accusing them of “abusing” the system.
[Inspired by the news]