Ottawa Sun
April 12, 2019

Ontario’s proposal to loosen the rules on drinking — especially in public — has worried a number of community groups wanting to see the province provide more resources for alcohol-related health-care costs.

The budget would let municipalities open parks to drinking, would let bars and restaurants serve alcohol starting at 9 a.m., allow tailgate parties at sports events and expand sales of alcohol into corner stores and more supermarkets.

“The people who work in mental health and addictions are certainly not jumping up and down with joy,” NDP health critic France Gélinas said. “There is a strong body of evidence that the more alcohol is available, the more people there are who realize that they have issues with alcoholism and addiction. If you are going to make alcohol available, it will mean trouble for some of the population.

“If they were going to do this, the reasonable thing to do would be to increase resources for treatment of alcohol and addiction. None of that was in the budget.”

Phat Ha from the Ontario Public Health Association said alcohol consumption rates had gone up in Ontario over the past 20 years, including a 90 per cent increase among female drinkers, who have been targeted with alcohol advertising.

Hospitalization for alcohol-related reasons in Ontario surpasses heart attacks, according to recent research. The estimated economic cost was $1.5 billion in 2014, surpassing costs associated with tobacco or opioids, according to Ha.

The OPHA wants a provincewide strategy to address the heath, social and public safety impact of the movement toward more liberal alcohol access in the province.

The organization recognizes the PC government ran, in part, on a platform of more liberal alcohol access and we live in a democracy, he said, but greater access should also come with a better understanding of the potential costs.

“If you are going to do this, you need to address the health, the social and the public safety impacts and also the economic impacts and health-care cost.”

Mothers Against Drunk Driving says it is cautiously waiting for details.

“It definitely will be increasing the availability” of alcohol, said Eric Dumschat, legal director of MADD Canada.

“I don’t have a lot of details in front of me right now.” But he said any loosening of rules about drinking must happen “in a cautious manner, and they need to ensure that they contact stakeholders” to safeguard public safety.

There must also be financial resources for enforcement — for instance, through policing or the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, he said.

“We want to see more information before we take a position.”

In Kingston, where the annual Queen’s University Homecoming weekend often has boozy, all-day street parties, Mayor Bryan Paterson said: “We’ll take some time to look more closely at this legislation, but we would be cautious about any changes that could potentially contribute to unsanctioned street parties or detract from a family friendly environment in local parks.

“We’ll be connecting with the provincial government to better understand the rollout of these proposed changes and we’ll also consult with residents to get their input on changing current alcohol restrictions in our community.”