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St. Albert council gives alcohol-in-parks pilot the go-ahead

Consumption will be permitted from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. in Lions, Rotary, and Kingswood parks until Sept. 30.
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Lion's Park sign facing Sir Winston Churchill Ave. In St. Albert August 1, 2017.

St. Albert is kicking off a pilot program to allow alcohol in public parks starting Sept. 1, council heard Monday. 

The pilot is slated to run until Sept. 30, and will take place in Lions, Rotary, and Kingswood parks. In these parks, residents will be able to consume alcohol at picnic tables and up to a 25-metre radius.

Consumption will be permitted from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The decision follows the provincial government’s relaxation of rules surrounding alcohol use in parks beginning in 2019. Edmonton, Strathcona County, and Morinville, are already running similar liquor pilot programs in their public parks. 

Manda Wilde, senior project manager for St. Albert, said from conversations the city had with Morinville, the municipality found there had been very limited uptake in their pilots, and no complaints or enforcement actions had happened. 

“One thing we did hear from colleagues in other municipalities is the importance of a strong communications campaign for a successful pilot,” Wilde said. “We would emphasize that residents should always drink responsibly, consuming only within the designated areas, and within the designated hours.”

Wilde emphasized all other legislation must be observed during the pilot, including regulations around public intoxication and driving under the influence. She said RCMP should be contacted for concerns about public behaviour and safety “just as they are now.”

Feedback from the pilot will be collected in two phases, first through ongoing feedback supported through public emails and the city’s cultivate-the-conversation platform, and in winter of 2021 when the parks bylaw undergoes review. 

A report based on the pilot program will come back to council in 2022.

Coun. Natalie Joly questioned why administration would designate specific picnic tables for alcohol consumption, as opposed to permitting liquor use in the entire park, similar to Morinville, where three whole park sites have been designated for liquor use. 

“In Edmonton it’s been an enforcement nightmare,” Joly said of permitting alcohol use at picnic tables but not the rest of the park. “Why are we going this route instead of the one Morinville has?”

Wilde said the city still wanted to provide some opportunity for residents to be away from people choosing to consume alcohol if that was their choice. 

“There are residents that are uncomfortable with alcohol consumption, and we wanted to make sure parks remain accessible and enjoyable for all users,” Wilde said. 

Majority of councillors support pilot

During council’s discussion, Mayor Cathy Heron said residents have told her they are “cautiously in favour” of the pilot program. 

“A permissive attitude toward alcohol in places like Europe actually comes with more responsibility from residents,” Heron said. “I’m hoping this goes well and we can make it permanent in the future.”

Heron apologized that the motion hadn’t come forward earlier, noting she had thought it was going to come from administration instead of from council. She thanked administration for acting quickly after she had brought forward the motion on July 5. 

“I threw this on administration’s plate right before summer break and they’ve done a remarkable job,” Heron said. 

Coun. Ken MacKay spoke in favour of the pilot project. MacKay, who is a retired police officer, said he had experience enforcing liquor laws in the past. 

“It would be a little bit naive to believe this was not already occurring,” MacKay said of alcohol consumption in parks. “By putting some rules and regulation around it through a pilot program, I think we’re all going to benefit as residents.”

Coun. Ray Watkins spoke against the motion, saying he was not sure society needs a “more permissive attitude toward alcohol.”

“There’s a lot of places where people can drink now,” Watkins said. “There’s bars, there’s at home … Most people are going to drive to the park with their alcohol, and then you’re almost encouraging them to drink and then get in the car and drive back.” 

Joly spoke in support of the motion, noting she lived in New Zealand for two years where alcohol use in parks was allowed. Ultimately, Joly said she views the pilot program as a route to “place-making.”

“It’s about inviting people to have their celebrations in St. Albert parks,” Joly said. “I believe the people who are going to be taking advantage of this bylaw are going to be respectful.”

The motion passed by 5-2, with Coun. Sheena Hughes and Watkins opposed.

The pilot will cost about $1,000 to implement, city spokesperson Cory Sinclair said in an email to The Gazette.