The Alberta government recently proposed lifting a handful of restrictions on alcohol in the province, arguing the amendments would make it easier for adults to drink liquor in public parks. But the plan, like similar legislative suggestions in Canada, would do little to loosen the rules.
Grant Hunter, who’s in charge of simplifying regulations, said late last month the governing United Conservative Party would erase the dictate that says adults must have food with them if they are consuming alcohol in parks.
“This amendment is about giving responsible adults the ability to enjoy a drink in our beautiful provincial parks, and other parks, and eliminating the red tape that hampers municipalities and land owners for making decisions for their constituents and patrons,” Mr. Hunter said.
But the amendment, and others in the government’s package, will bring little change. Albertans are largely prohibited from drinking alcohol in municipal parks, even if they packed a picnic, save for at designated spaces at certain events.
The provincial government’s bill does not change that. It is largely up to local politicians to decide whether someone can crack a beer in places such as city parks – and lawmakers across the country have been waffling on this for years. Calgary, for example, last year delayed its pilot project. Edmonton last year asked city staff to study the idea. Vancouver’s pilot is limited to two locations and excludes bringing your own alcohol. Toronto’s city council has not budged.
And so Alberta’s bill reflects Canada’s awkward relationship with alcohol rather than a drive toward individual freedom. It also highlights how politicians often support looser liquor laws in an effort to attract voters, but are reluctant to enact laws that will bring substantial change.
Lisa Young, a professor at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, said politicians struggle to relax rules about consuming alcohol in public because prohibition remains part of Canada’s collective psyche.
“We’ve grown up with a whole set of restrictions that really say that alcohol is bad and it is something to be tolerated. [And] that mayhem will happen if we let people drink without food, or after certain hours, and so on,” Prof. Young said. “There is a funny Protestant temperance notion that has been embedded in Canadian legislation.”
Vancouver is one of Canada’s most progressive cities and law enforcement generally tolerates drinking at some of its beaches, even though it is prohibited. The city was comfortable with public consumption of cannabis long before it was legal. It is home to Wreck Beach, the country’s most famous nudist hangout. But still, Vancouver’s politicians have taken only baby steps.
Last year, the city allowed the Cactus Club at English Bay and the Boathouse Restaurant at Kitsilano Beach to sell alcohol at its concessions. The pilot project ran for two months and will continue this summer.
“The Vancouver Park Board continues to work with the operators to understand how their learnings can be applied to potentially incorporating liquor sales at other concessions in the future,” Daria Wojnarski, a spokeswoman for the board, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Calgary “postponed” a pilot project allowing alcohol in parks last year. The city said it would revisit the test phase in 2020. Roughly 15,000 people took part in its survey about allowing alcohol at picnic tables in parks and a “slight majority” favoured the proposal, the city said in a press release last year.
“Whether for or against the initiative, many Calgarians expressed concerns about the potential for an increase in disorderly behaviour and drinking and driving,” it said.
Now, Calgary has delayed the postponed pilot project until it reviews Alberta’s most recent liquor announcement, according to Kaila Lagran, a spokeswoman for the city. A number of city departments are examining it, she said.
Jyoti Gondek, a member of Calgary’s city council, is not among the politicians who are reluctant to change liquor laws. “I think North Americans are the most ridiculous society when it comes to alcohol usage in public,” she said. “We have gone to extremes to prohibit it.”
Calgarians often flout the rules in the city’s parks without chaos, she said. “It is seriously not the end of the world,” Ms. Gondek said.
Albertans are already allowed to consume alcohol in designated areas in provincial parks; Bill 2 simply lifts the food restriction.
Ontario, under the Progressive Conservatives, last year announced plans to relax liquor laws. Toronto politicians have been talking about legalizing alcohol in parks for years, but the provincial government’s move made no difference.
Toronto Mayor John Tory has said “this is something he wouldn’t be opposed to,” according to Don Peat, his spokesman.
“Last year when the Ontario budget was released, the Mayor did welcome the move to give municipalities greater latitude when it comes to alcohol service, but noted that will need to be balanced with community safety,” Mr. Peat said in a statement.
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