In a press release dated Feb 23, the province has indicated its desire to loosen liquor regulations at major festivals, special events and vacation resorts.
The proposal would allow patrons of festivals to circulate more freely with drinks, extend special event hours from 1am to 2am and allow “all-inclusive” packages in Ontario to include booze for the first time.
Attorney General Chris Bentley tells Xtra that the proposal comes in response to Ontarians demanding more freedom to consume beer at events and the government’s hope that this will make Ontario more attractive as a tourism destination.
“I think people are ready for a bit more freedom. They’ve expressed that our rules seem outdated and unduly restrictive compared to other provinces,” he says. “We want to be as competitive and attractive as possible to potential visitors.”
Before the regulations are changed, the province will hold 30 days of consultations with the public and stakeholders such as municipalities, police, industry organizations and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
There’s no timeline for when the new regulations will come into force. Bentley says that a Toronto Star report suggesting the proposal would require a legislative change — which would put the changes on hold until after the October election — is wrong.
For gay Ontarians, the main advantage of the proposal seems to be in the way the new laws would affect major festivals. Pride Toronto would be able to do away with beer tents and create larger fenced-in areas where people could drink while circulating freely. Retail booths would also be allowed, much like at Montreal’s Divers/Cité street festival.
Pride’s co-chair, Francisco Alvarez, declined to comment on the proposed changes but noted that Pride has been invited to a consultation next Thursday.
David Wootton, manager of the Church-Wellesley Village BIA, agrees the changes would likely be good for the community. However, he was unsure if the BIA would rush to implement them for the annual Church Street Fetish Fair this summer or the Halloween festivities.
“This is something we’ve heard about for a very long time,” Wootton says. “People feel like they’re locked into beer tents when they’re in them.”
The BIA doesn’t traditionally put up tents for its festivals because the point is to get people to spend money inside the local bars and restaurants. There is some worry at the BIA that making it easier to buy drinks at a central outdoor location sponsored by an alcohol company would discourage people from going inside the bars.
“What would be the perfect advantage would be allowing you to buy your beer at [one of the bars] and walk around an enclosed area, like Alexander to Wellesley,” he says. “At least then the money is going to the business instead of the Molson tent.”
Even if the proposed changes go through, there’s no time to implement changes ahead of this summer’s Fetish Fair, Wootton says. The BIA plans to have patio extensions as in previous years.
Church-Wellesley businesses could also benefit indirectly; the new regulations may help promote Ontario as a progressive and fun destination for queer travellers, says Liz Devine, managing director of the gay travel agency conxity.com.
“I think that visitors would think we’re a little bit more internationalized,” she says. “When they come from European areas or other countries with more liberal alcohol laws and see the way we’re so restricted during events, it makes us look a bit conservative.”
As for all-inclusive packages, they are unlikely to woo more travellers to Ontario, says Devine.
“It’s comparing apples and oranges,” she says. “Our licensing and taxes for alcohol are very high compared to packages in the Caribbean and Mexico. I don’t think you’d see much appeal for resort operators and consumers when it’s priced in.”
Art galleries have also complained about alcohol regulations; the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario has confusing rules that regulate special occasion permits, which must be purchased to serve wine at events such as openings.
While the proposed changes do not specifically address their concerns, Bentley says he’s open to discussing further changes.
“They do have some rather interesting and restrictive conditions,” Bentley says. “An art gallery can’t sell wine and art at the same time, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. We’re prepared to listen. That’s one of the things we can look at and maybe change.”
Send your comments on the proposed changes to liquor regulations in Ontario to firstname.lastname@example.org .