Once in a blue moon, Doug Ford manages to make sense. The other day he was speaking about a glaring contradiction he’s noticed. Under the rules governing legalized marijuana, you can sit on a blanket in a public park drawing on an expertly rolled joint and not worry about a cop harshing your mellow, but you can’t drink a glass of merlot or crack a can of IPA.
“What’s the difference?” quoth the Premier. “They’re making it legal to go out and smoke a joint, a doobie, a reefer, whatever the heck they call it nowadays. I wouldn’t want my kids walking by with a bunch of guys smoking cannabis or marijuana, but if a couple of guys are sitting there quietly on a picnic bench having a cold little beer, who cares?”
Leaving aside the slur on that harmless bunch of guys, he has a point. There really isn’t much difference. If you can have a joint or nibble a marijuana brownie with your picnic, why should it be a problem to sip wine or beer? “Big deal. Who cares, if you aren’t rowdy?” said Mr. Ford, warming to his topic.
Who indeed. The COVID-19 pandemic furnishes a golden opportunity to relax our horse-and-buggy rules on public drinking. After being cooped up at home for all those weeks, the Premier notes, people are desperate to get out in the open air. They need some breathing space. If they drink responsibly, respecting others and maintaining physical distance, the authorities ought to leave them alone.
In Paris or Berlin, you can have a public tipple without attracting the attention of law enforcement. In Montreal, you can have a drink in a park with your meal. Why not in Toronto?
The provincial government says cities can allow drinking in public parks if they choose. But though Toronto claims to be a forward-thinking, cosmopolitan metropolis, it has never quite escaped the stern outlook of its bewhiskered forefathers. Their influence lives on.
Only recently did Ontario allow beer and wine – but still not the demon liquor – to be sold in supermarkets, and you still can’t get it in corner stores, despite Mr. Ford’s promises to change that. The province maintains a huge network of government liquor stores, for no apparent reason except to replenish the provincial treasury. And it still has a ridiculous chain of private outlets dedicated solely to the sale of beer – now also available at the liquor store and the supermarket. It’s called “the Beer Store.”
It is long past time for a change. Attitudes about drinking in the outdoors are evolving during the pandemic. Many cities have allowed bars and restaurants to set up outdoor patios so that patrons can enjoy a drink in the open air, where the risk of coronavirus infection is lower. In Toronto, patios separated from traffic by orange markers line some main streets, giving them a pleasing European feel. Officials are letting restaurants sell drinks with takeout orders, too.
North Vancouver decided in June to allow drinking in certain parks for a trial period. Vancouver proper followed suit with selected plazas. New Alberta rules allow people to drink when picnicking in provincial parks.
North Vancouver’s mayor makes the point that for those who live in high-rises and multiunit buildings with no yards, parks are a kind of extension of home. Letting them drink there is only giving them the freedom that those in bigger homes enjoy.
Toronto Mayor John Tory says he is open to the idea, but, given how much the city has on its plate, now may not be the time. He is wrong about that. This is the perfect time for the city once known as Toronto the Good to loosen its stays and let residents have an innocent drink on the grass.
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