Some prankster must have slipped Premier Brad Wall a Mickey Finn at the Saskatchewan Party convention earlier this month. Only a short year ago, Mr. Wall won a second mandate and pronounced that Saskatchewan was “moving forward.” So why is he even contemplating a retrograde move to lower the legal drinking age to 18 from 19?
Perhaps this is considered progressive policy-making in Canada’s bloated potash colony. In 1976, the province’s legal drinking age was upped to 19 from 18 under NDP premier Allan Blakeney. Ontario, under Progressive Conservative premier Bill Davis, followed suit in 1978.
Saskatchewan, known for both its work ethic and its stoicism, is why binge drinking is embraced. Yet, Saskatoon, our largest city, is a former Temperance Colony. And, God bless ’em, the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority still won’t permit grown men to enjoy an alcoholic drink while they watch strippers (the only province that restricts alcohol and titillation in the same establishment – take note, convention bookers). It’s Boardwalk Empire with snowbanks.
You don’t want to encourage young people to begin drinking prematurely. In the late 1970s, when I was a Winnipeg teen, the drinking age was 18. That meant my girlfriends and I started to booze in earnest at 16. If we plastered on enough eyeliner, no one asked us for ID. My watering hole was the Montcalm Hotel on Pembina Highway. The draft was cheap (50 cents a glass), and we just turned our backs when the noon-hour peelers performed.
At 17, I reluctantly drank hard liquor in the paint room at my summer parks and recreation job, which was mandatory if I wanted to fit in at the male-dominated work site. That same summer, I read Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72 on the unionized midnight shift since my only task was to prime the pump at the East Kildonan public pool. I’m not sure what corrupted me more: gonzo journalism or underage drinking.
In my early 20s, my prodigious drinking habits finally caught up with me. I logged too much pub time at Toronto’s Glendon College and was asked to sit out for two years before returning, chastened and sober, to complete my studies at York University’s main campus.
I can’t think of a quicker way to derail a functional 18-year-old’s life path than to hand them a drink. Harvard-bound Barney Gumble on a Simpsons episode took his first sip of beer in high school and, after a radical transformation, announced: “Where have you been all my life?” He ended up as the town drunk.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Saskatchewan boasts one of the highest impaired driving rates in the country, and drinking and driving is most common among the 18-to-25 demographic.
If Mr. Wall proceeds with his proposed age change, he’ll be most popular with the younger voters. The purse-lipped fun killers – like me – are against lowering the drinking age. If I were in charge, I’d take us back to Prohibition times.
Let’s give this tipsy proposition a pass and address more pressing issues such as impaired driving, crumbling infrastructure and affordable housing. Let’s educate our youths instead of giving them a licence to party. That’s what I call “moving forward.”
Meantime, my role as a sober adult is to continue the temperance tradition: Call in loud teen partiers, collect their tossed beer bottles for recycling and scowl and shake my fist when I pass dens of iniquity.
Patricia Dawn Robertson is a Saskatchewan journalist.