Mike Davies

Opening the taps on liquor regulations

More updates to the provincial Liquor Control and Licencing Act came into effect this week.

The government says these changes will “create new opportunities for businesses, increase convenience for consumers and enhance the province’s commitment to social responsibility.”

These updates are surely welcome, as many of the rules on the books were clearly ridiculous and antiquated.

Like the inability for a patron at a hotel bar or restaurant to carry their drink to their room, for example.

Or the concept that people should be herded into a fenced-in pen to consume alcohol at an outdoor concert or festival because only a certain area of the grounds are licensed, which not only adds stigma to the consumption of alcohol but also encourages binging because people know they can’t drink once they are back outside the fence, so they’d better get as much in them as they can while they’re penned up. It was nonsense and should never have been in place for this long.

Also, I clearly remember approaching a table of restaurant patrons to take their drink order – back in a seemingly-past life when I was in the food and beverage industry – and having to ask, “are you ordering food, as well?” when someone would ask for a beer. Seemingly every second response was something along the lines of “Why?” And then I’d have to apologize for a bad law that didn’t make sense.

When you add these changes to the recent adjustment to allow children into pubs during certain hours so that families can enjoy meals together at a wider variety of establishments, the province’s liquor regulations look like they’re starting to catch up to the times.

I do, however, question the decision to open liquor licensing to “other types of businesses, allowing a range of new establishments to offer liquor to their clientele as an additional service,” not because I don’t think people should be allowed to have a glass of wine or beer while they look at art in a gallery, but because of the complications it raises and the ease by which this could completely come off the metaphoric rails.

While the types of establishments being cited by the government in this recommendation and most of the media are places like barbershops, salons, book stores and art galleries, I can’t help but wonder where the line will be drawn and who will decide that.

If the government starts getting liquor licence applications from every store in every town (who wouldn’t want to add the revenue from liquor sales to their cash registers?), will they stand by their “social responsibility” commitment or just let everyone sell all the booze they can?

After all, liquor sales are a huge revenue generator for business and would therefore mean an equally large financial windfall for the government.

If not, how will they figure out what kind of businesses will get licences?

And if they approve a liquor licence for a hair salon, for example, won’t they then also have to grant one to every other hair salon that applies?

If they are going to be selective in issuing licences, how long will it be until people start to complain that they can’t be competitive if they aren’t legally allowed to offer the same services as the shop up the street?

I guess what I’m saying is that while there are certainly some good, common-sense changes coming to the legislation, I don’t know how I feel about some of them just yet.

While I enjoy a drink as much as the next person, I don’t think I need one while I’m getting a haircut or browsing the shelves at Coho Books for a summer novel – and I worry what opening the taps on liquor service to anyone who wants a licence could mean.