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Ontario’s alcohol rules are ridiculous. You can buy a case of 24 beers only at stores devoted exclusively to the sale of beer. You can smoke weed in a park, but can’t drink a glass of wine with your picnic. And now the latest absurdity: you can have a beer with your wings at a 7-Eleven store, but you can’t buy a six-pack and take it with you.

The anomaly sprang from the chain’s move to start offering sit-down dining at some of its outlets. In one of the first, in Leamington, “trained cooks” prepare potato wedges, pizza, taquitos, hotdogs and Crispy Classic Chicken wings “cooked fresh in the store’s commercial-grade kitchen.” If that is not enough to entice your date – Hey, babe, how about dinner at 7-Eleven tonight? – the store now offers “a variety of chilled beer, wines and coolers.”

When the CBC visited the Leamington outlet, it found fridges full of cold beer and wine. But forget about taking any of it home. Unlike stores in dozens of other countries, not to mention the province of Quebec, convenience stores in Ontario are prohibited from selling the stuff. Those fridges are locked and marked Employee Access Only.

The Leamington 7-Eleven illustrates neatly the hash that Ontario has made of liquor retailing. The province has moved along from the days when you had to fill out a form and present it to a clerk to get a bottle from the liquor store. You can drink on a bar patio, drink on Sundays, buy beer from a craft brewery and even get a drink delivered with your takeout food.

But nearly 40 years after a Liberal premier, David Peterson, proposed letting corner stores sell beer and wine, it’s still forbidden in Ontario. Another Liberal premier, Kathleen Wynne, missed a chance to make it happen in the 2010s. She struck a deal to let some supermarkets sell beer, for a healthy fee, but kept corner stores out of it.

That is bad for the stores, many of them struggling small businesses that could use the extra revenue and customer traffic that selling beer and wine would bring. And it’s bad for customers, who can’t simply pop down to the corner to get a bottle of wine to have with dinner, a convenience enjoyed by people in Amsterdam, Los Angeles and Paris but not the supposedly sophisticated city of Toronto.

The current premier, Progressive Conservative Doug Ford, recently repeated his promise to change the rules and let corner stores in, but has been hampered by the rotten Wynne deal, which expires in 2025. The government could face a fortune in penalties if it broke the agreement with the big brewing companies that control the giant retailer.

So Ontarians are left with a half-reformed, still-backward regime for the sale of alcoholic beverages. Many still buy their beer at that unique Ontario institution, The Beer Store, a throwback to the 1920s when the government ended prohibition but promised the temperance movement it would keep sales under strict control. The same era produced the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, or LCBO, the province’s main liquor retailer.

A century later, there is no reason for either to exist. Alberta successfully moved alcohol sales into private hands 30 years ago. The sky did not fall. Albertans can now buy their alcohol in everything from huge liquor marts to fine-wine boutiques. Saskatchewan just followed suit, closing the last of its government liquor stores. Though governments have every right to regulate and tax liquor sales, there is no reason they should be in the booze-selling business themselves.

There is no reason they should ban responsible drinking in the parks, either. In Toronto, many picnickers already bring a bottle along in spite of the rules. Most don’t misbehave. All five candidates for mayor who appeared at a CBC debate this week said they favoured allowing it, though one, former police chief Mark Saunders, said he would run a pilot project first. Toronto is considering doing just that this summer, but city council was tentative when it discussed the idea last month, asking for a staff report first.

One day, Ontarians will get modern, civilized drinking laws. In the meantime, they have beer and wings at 7-Eleven.

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