With the Ford government adding the slogans “Open for Business" and "A Place to Grow" to Ontario licence plates in the future, "Happy Hour is Here” might be a third tagline to consider.
Last Thursday's provincial budget included a loosening of restrictions on alcohol,but whether this is a cause for celebration or concern—or simply a case of giving Ontarians “beer and circuses”—is a topic worthy of debate.
The province has said municipalities will be delegated the ability to allow drinking in their parks and recreational areas. It also wants to expand retail sales of beer and wine to convenience stores, “big box” retailers, and an increased number of grocery stores in order to create more alcohol points of sale. Ontario currently has the lowest density of retail outlets selling beverage alcohol of all the provinces in Canada.
The province also plans to allow licensed establishments to serve alcohol starting at 9 a.m. seven days a week, and allow bars and restaurants to advertise “happy hour” specials.
A scheduled hike to the wine tax enacted by the previous Liberal government will also be halted, and casinos will be able to advertise free drinks. (They are already allowed to hand out free booze to gamblers—they just can't advertise it.)
While all of these changes will no doubt mean more revenue for private businesses and the province itself, just as importantly these changes speak to the notion that government has been restricting Ontarians' personal freedoms for far too long and it's time adults should be treated like adults.
“Why shouldn't I be able to have a beer at our family reunion in the park? Why can't we have margaritas on the beach? I am over 19 years old and I can drink at home, so why can't we be free to do it in public?”
A reasonable argument, especially given that many places elsewhere in Canada, the U.S.A. and the rest of the world are much more open with their liquor laws.
What's more, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli has said the changes won't mean it will be party time, 24-7.
“We'll be able to trust families and individuals to do the right thing and behave responsibly,” he stated.
Still, public safety will be a concern for municipalities and law enforcement.
With booze being made more readily available—and presumably more alcohol being consumed in public than right now—it stands to reason there may be more incidents of drinking and driving, minors accessing alcohol, alcohol theft, assaults, property damage, and other crimes.
Whether this ends up being the case, and consequently whether those costs to society are worth the afforded freedoms—and the extra revenue—the new rules will result in remains to be seen.
Much of it will depend on personal and social responsibility. In other words, can we all be as grown-up as we claim to be?