With Alberta’s top Tories in need of both a major distraction and a stiff drink, perhaps it’s no surprise that the issue of bar hours has once again surfaced.

In February, after some bars were forced to make special applications to open early for the men’s Olympic hockey gold medal game, the Alberta government abruptly announced just days before that all bars would be allowed to open and serve alcohol at 5 a.m.

With that experiment having unfolded smoothly, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission decided that Calgary bars would be allowed to open at 8 a.m. for the duration of Stampede. And now, with the sky having once again decidedly not fallen, the focus has shifted from opening time to closing time.

Justice Minister Jonathan Denis suggested over the weekend that after two previously successful pilot projects, the next logical step is to examine the impact of allowing bars to stay open later. It’s not the first time he has mused about such an experiment. He tweeted in February that “we should examine … later hours — that way cabs can keep up and ensure more people get home safe.”

Certainly the cab crunch issue is one that speaks to the need to review bar hours — but it’s one of several arguments in favour of allowing bars to set their own hours. Indeed, the woes currently associated with last call may in part stem from last call itself. The very nature of last call involves a mad dash to order and consume alcohol while the clock is ticking, and then forcing everyone onto the streets at once.

Removing last call — allowing bars to close when it makes sense for them to do so — removes those elements.

It’s also an issue of fairness — or, as the justice minister has put it, treating adults like adults. If one is old enough to legally drink, and the consumption of that alcohol does not involve breaking any other laws, then it needn’t be the concern of the state as to the time of day that activity takes place.

And while PC leadership candidate Jim Prentice doesn’t think “much good happens after two in the morning that involves alcohol,” he fails to recognize that there are those who work shift work and late hours, and for whom two in the morning is actually quite early.

Of course, it’s not just Prentice who has reservations about such an idea. City Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart took to Twitter on Sunday to pour cold water on Denis’ musings, and others on council have previously expressed their opposition to the idea. And while they’ve remained silent so far, it’s likely that there would be strong opposition from Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada.

In June, when the Quebec Liquor Board scuttled a planned pilot project in Montreal allowing some bars to stay open until 6 a.m., the national president of MADD Canada said she was “thrilled.” Angeliki Souranis told the Montreal Gazette that “the opportunity for people to become more inebriated, more impaired would be there.”

But does that lead to more impaired driving? Not necessarily. As MADD Canada has often noted in the debate over blood-alcohol content and Alberta’s .05 legislation, Germany’s rate of impaired driving is five times lower than Canada’s. Yet one can easily find bars in Germany with 5 a.m. closing times — or even those that are open around the clock. London, Paris, New York, Miami and other cities have bars with later closing times or none at all. There’s no reason why we can’t do so, too.

If anything, Alberta’s justice minister is being too timid. We don’t need further experiments and pilot projects, we simply need to change the laws. If bars or pubs wish to stay open later or open earlier, we should simply ask that they live up to what is already expected of them: responsible service.

Source: Calgary Herald


Last updated on: 2014-08-23 | Link to this post