Toronto Star
April 12, 2019

The province needs to ensure that new regulations around alcohol are rolled out in a way that protects public safety, including additional resources for enforcement and regulation and perhaps a public information campaign, says the legal director of MADD Canada.

“If you’re going to change the rules, you need to inform people that while the rules are changing the consequences remain the same. Just because you can drink at a tailgate party, doesn’t mean the consequences for driving while impaired are any different,” Eric Dumschat said Friday.

The PC provincial budget, tabled Thursday, loosened restrictions around the sale and consumption of alcohol. Municipalities were given the authority to allow drinking in parks and recreation arenas. Licensed establishments will be permitted to serve alcohol from 9 a.m. Earlier in the week, the government announced it would permit drinking in parking lots outside sports events at so-called tailgate parties.

Many have praised the changes, including those in the hospitality industry.

City of Toronto spokesperson Tammy Robbinson said it’s too soon to say how the city will decide whether to allow drinking in its parks, and if so, how the new policy would be rolled out and regulated.

“There are too many unknowns at this stage to provide a clear answer,” said Robbinson.

Mayor John Tory has said that drinking in parks is something that has to be considered carefully by council, but, “I do think it is time … that we assume that adults can be adults and conduct themselves properly.”

Councillor Joe Cressy, (Ward 10 Spadina Fort-York), was critical of the Ford government for tossing out so many alcohol consumption reforms — including the buck-a-beer Ford promised voters during the election campaign.

“When it comes to alcohol, policy has to be carefully thought through. You cannot make alcohol public policy on the basis of slogans. So buck-a-beer, and drinking in parks and tailgating with a tall can, does not make for thoughtful and sensible public policy,” said Cressy, who chairs the board of health.

Evidence has shown that increasing the availability of alcohol is associated with increased alcohol consumption and increased health and social harms, according to a recent report from Toronto’s medical officer of health.

While the proportion of Ontario adults consuming alcohol has remained stable over the past two decades — with four out of five Ontario adults reporting they consume alcohol — the amount of alcohol consumed per person has increased significantly.

The average weekly number of drinks consumed by those who consume alcohol increased to 4.9 drinks per week in 2017, up from 3.3 drinks per week in 1996. The increase has been particularly pronounced among women, who now consume 3.6 drinks per week compared to 1.9 in 1996, a jump of 90 per cent.

The report pointed to an increase in access to alcohol as the driving factor.

“Wine and cider are now sold at local farmers’ markets, alcohol (beer, cider, wine) is sold in over 350 grocery stores, and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario continues to enhance its online retail presence,” according to the report.

It called for a provincial alcohol strategy for Ontario, based on prevention, harm reduction, treatment and enforcement.

“Increasing access to alcohol has been shown to increase harm. This has been demonstrated in extensive international and national research over many decades,” said Norman Giesbrecht, the chair of the Alcohol Working Group, Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition, and Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

In a presentation to Toronto’s board of health this week, he pointed out that alcohol is a known carcinogen.

“Allowing the sale of alcohol starting at 9 a.m. normalizes the idea of drinking in the morning and may indeed normalize practices of drinking alcohol earlier in the day and in greater quantities,” he wrote in a letter to the board.