It won't happen quickly enough to aid Jets fans celebrate any return of NHL hockey to their city, but Manitoba's expansion of beer and wine retailing is a lesson to provinces across Canada.
The reforms are modest: Just five grocery stores – places where alcohol cannot be sold today – will get beer and wine, and it will be sold under the aegis of the province's liquor commission. But Manitoba is sending other welcome signals that it is open to the devil's brew. The province is going to introduce a “Bring Your Own Wine” program for restaurants. It's going to make it easier to open a brew pub. Other innovations, like online permit applications and multi-year liquor licensing, bring the government into the modern era.
Canada's liquor laws have lagged changes in public morality. It was only 14 years ago that Ontario lifted the ban on Sunday liquor sales. Canadians should not face unreasonable bars on access to a product that, when consumed in moderation with sensible controls, does not jeopardize public health.
And there's little evidence that expanded access is a danger. A 2005 review panel for the province of Ontario found that “a variety of regulatory strategies can ensure social responsibility in the sale of beverage alcohol.” Quebec, the province with the most freely available alcohol (beer and wine can be sold in any convenience store), has more light drinkers, but fewer heavy drinkers, than any other province in Canada, according to a 2009 Health Canada study. Manitoba's reforms, which include the registration of beer kegs and a crackdown on false IDs, have won support from brewers, and from MADD Canada.
Not every province will want to liberalize as fully as Quebec. But they should watch and then follow Manitoba's example. And all provinces can go further still, by taking another pro-consumer move, following Alberta's lead and privatizing liquor sales. Here's to beer and wine on more store shelves.
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