McGuinty liquor law reform unhelpful

Recently, the McGuinty government has proposed the liberalization of Ontario liquor laws. Such changes would remove restrictions on special events, festivals and licensed establishments. It will allow special events to serve liquor until 2 a.m. like other establishments and allow all-inclusive vacation packages. Chris Bentley, attorney general for the province of Ontario, stated the changes were being made because the regulations were “outdated and they just don’t make sense.”

McGuinty should be wary of piecemeal reform of the system. Loosening regulations in one area of Ontario’s confusing maze of liquor regulations can lead to conflict with other “outdated” regulations that McGuinty isn’t bothering to address.

For example, if restrictions on special events and festivals are lifted and people are allowed to walk around with open alcohol, this may force organizers and staff to limit the age of attendance to above drinking age. They will legitimately fear losing their liquor license if minors consume alcohol due to lack of control of where the alcohol is being consumed. Will the Kitchener Blues Festival then only be open to those over the age of 19? This has the potential to end family-friendly events.

That is not to say that Ontario’s current underage drinking rules are reasonable — they are archaic and do nothing to curb access to alcohol. In fact, they most certainly promote underage binge drinking. The entire regulatory regime and government mandated monopolies over beer and liquor can be called into question.

But if McGuinty is serious about reforming our liquor laws an overhaul is in order. Doing it piece by piece can make things worse than they already are for all Ontarians.

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