The city could soon be awash in booze if Ford’s new rules take hold

Ontario's premier is ushering in a new era of public alcohol consumption

The whole winning the NBA championship aside, the excitement around the Jurassic Park phenomenon was one of the most memorable things about the Raptors’ historic playoff run. Bottom line, people like to congregate, hoist a cold alcoholic beverage and have a good time outside sporting venues.

The province of Ontario’s new booze rules will allow for more fans to replicate that treasured Jurassic Park experience. Apparently, there will be even more opportunities to hoist some hooch in public as soon as cities figure out just how to implement the array of new rules, if they choose to do so.

“Alcohol reform is something long desired by the people of Ontario,” said Vic Fedeli, MPP, when the new rules were announced this spring.

“Today, we’re moving another step forward on our promise to improve customer choice and convenience and enable more opportunities for business in the beverage alcohol sector.”

The Province of Ontario’s plan includes allowing municipalities to make new rules around drinking in public areas, such as parks; tailgate parties; allowing bars, restaurants and golf courses to open and serve alcohol at 9 a.m. seven days a week; and more.

This, on top of the much-maligned buck-a-beer campaign, and the move to try to get beer and wine into corner stores.

One of the first initiatives out of the gate is tailgate events. Administered by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), those interested in a parking lot party outside a sporting event can now apply for a Tailgate Event Permit at the AGCO.

But, before you ask, the rules do not extend to your recreational league Ultimate frisbee game. We checked.

“Tailgate events are held outdoors, in connection with and in proximity to a live professional, semi-professional or post-secondary sporting event,” state the AGCO rules.

Applicants must jump through a few hoops, of course, including notifying in writing the local municipal clerk’s department as well as police, fire and health departments, in addition to following the Liquor Licence Act.

This may be of particular interest to teams such as the Toronto Maple Leafs semi-pro baseball team, which plays in the International League and hosts home games in leafy Christie Pits Park, or the city’s semi-professional Ultimate frisbee team, which plays its home games at Varsity Stadium.

Not only would the new rules make it a more pleasant experience for some, it could also provide an additional source of revenue.

In addition to tailgate events, local residents could soon be granted the ability to have a beer or glass of wine in designated public areas such as parks. But don’t crack open that tinnie just yet, as each municipality needs to choose its own path forward.

Of course, parks such as Trinity Bellwoods already see a fair share of public drinking.

“It’s too early to say [how the city will implement rules for drinking in public],” said Cheryl San Juan, a spokesperson for the City of Toronto. “Staff are reviewing the changes announced by the province and will report to council on next steps around process. There are too many unknowns at this stage to provide a clear answer.”

In Montreal, although it is assumed that drinking wine and beer in parks is fine, the rules clearly state that it is only allowed when having a meal. No, a bag of Doritos does not constitute a meal. It is meant to be civilized.

Raisa Deber, a Dalla Lana school of public health professor at the University of Toronto, said it is important to gather expertise to determine rules that keep people safe.

“This is something where you need to have the expertise to say, ‘when is this a hazardous thing to be doing,’ as opposed to ‘this is something which is not really a big problem,’ ” said Deber. “OK if you want to have a beer in the backyard, and if you don’t have a backyard, maybe this gives you the ability to do it, and that may not be an issue. But if it means people are more likely to drive drunk, then there is a health problem there.”

She also suggested that some of these alcohol-related policies are what she described as “penny-wise and pound foolish.”

“From a public health focus, it is much cheaper to prevent something from happening in the first place than to have to clean it up after it has happened.”

Deber has written a number of case studies on this subject, including as it relates to the Walkerton contaminated water supply in 2000 when six people died and thousands got sick, which happened under former premier Mike Harris’s watch.

“One of the things I have found very striking is the extent to which we got things that, under the Harris government, we found you didn’t save money,” she explained.

“It was very much a false economy, and I’m worried that, if we are not careful how we handle this [loosening of alcohol laws], we will have the same kind of false economy, and you don’t find that out until after the disaster happens.”