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EDITORIAL: Liberalizing liquor laws


If you've ever strolled through one of St. Albert's many parks and shaken your head at the liquor bottles or beer cans discarded in the grass, you're certainly not alone. And if the province goes ahead with loosening up liquor consumption rules under Bill 2, you might be shaking your head more often.

Drinking alcohol in public parks, which has been against provincial rules for a long time, somehow got on the radar of Alberta's red tape reduction initiative. The initiative has some very laudable goals, aiming to cut red tape by one-third in order to "reduce costs, speed up approvals and make life better for Albertans."

That's according to the province's own website. Job creation, cost reductions and improved quality of life are all stated as evaluation metrics. It's difficult to imagine how relaxing public liquor consumption rules meets any of those goals, but apparently requiring people to drink in signed picnic areas designated for alcohol consumption during specific times, and only if they are also eating food, is too prescriptive a rule for our provincial leaders.

In the future, it would be nice to see a fourth evaluation metric join the other three: whether an idea is worth the cost of publicly funded government employees' time.

In the past, the UCP government has characterized laws around drinking in public parks as a "war on fun." Last year, the province lifted its prohibition on drinking in some provincial parks for the May long weekend – rules that had been in place more than 15 years ago due to excessive partying and hundreds of violations across the province.

Efforts to modernize outdated legislation have their merits, and other changes included in Bill 2 make sense, such as removing an ancient prohibition on liquor licences in parts of Alberta as well as removing the requirement for a public vote in communities seeking their first liquor licence approval. Another common-sense change included allowing the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) to put conditions on any liquor licence – similar to the AGLC's powers over cannabis licences.

But loosening up laws for public liquor consumption may do more harm than good. The requirement for food to accompany drinking generally ensures drinking is done in the context of a social gathering. It's also undeniable that people already drink illegally in parks – St. Albert has a few parks of its own that are notorious for attracting partiers late at night – and it's unwise to further facilitate that behaviour. It's also naive to think people will not take advantage of this rule change.

Alberta's efforts to reduce red tape could have a real, positive impact if it focuses on making it easier for businesses to operate and rethinking rules that have a profound negative impact on residents' lives. There are endless examples of such red tape: time-consuming and difficult paperwork for people who, for example, are living with disabilities and need to access government funding; and burdensome regulations for businesses. Those deserve attention far more than liberalizing public liquor consumption, which ironically may require more red tape to address the problems such a move could create.