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Think before boosting liquor hours

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  |  Posted: Saturday, Mar 01, 2014 06:00 am

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The relaxation of licensed drinking establishment rules for the Feb. 23 gold medal men’s hockey game was truly a lesson in provincial governance. Ministers Thomas Lukaszuk and Jonathan Denis, tweeting back and forth about possibly expanding licensed drinking hours, illustrate how policy can be conceived in mind-numbing 140-character exchanges.

Currently, the Liquor Licensee’s Handbook, an AGLC publication, states hours of service for most licensed premises are 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. If the provincial ministers’ tweets on the subject are any indication, they are eager to expand those hours.

The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association was quoted this week as supporting expanded hours in order to accommodate employees’ desire for flexibility and suggested “staggered closing times” so drinkers don’t spill out onto city streets like an overflowing flagon of draft beer.

Actually, the idea is about as effective as an antique beer stein with leaks. The notion that extending the hours of licensed establishments will alleviate the closing-time cab crunch is logically flawed. Even if bar operators are allowed to close whenever they want, the crowding problem isn’t likely to markedly dissipate. As one bar closes, many patrons will spill into the street looking to continue the party at the next open bar, creating an even more dangerous situation.

There is also the social and legal cost of more drinking in Alberta to be considered. Canada has an impaired driving problem. Mothers Against Drunk Driving pointed out in a 2012 study that Canada's per capita rate of alcohol-related crash deaths in 2008 was five times that of Germany, even though its alcohol consumption rate was 20 per cent higher than Canada's. A Stats Canada report released in 2011 shows impaired driving is the most common offence in Alberta adult criminal courts and is above the national average.

It’s hard to believe our provincial government would even contemplate extended bar hours because of a fatuous Twitter exchange between a couple of cabinet ministers. Licensed establishments can currently offer liquor for 16 hours a day, and that gives patrons plenty of time to drink at their favourite watering holes.

The gold medal game was a special event – one of those rare occasions that unifies all Canadians. It was a chance to cheer on our team in its quest for world dominance in our sport. Let’s hope the government wasn’t using it as a social experiment in order to raise money through taxes on increased liquor sales.


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