Government flirts with looser liquor laws

Proposed changes to Ontario’s liquor laws could see the end of restrictive beer tents and drinking pens at this summer’s Taste of the Danforth.

Attorney General Chris Bentley announced on Feb. 23 that the government is considering relaxing a number of “outdated” alcohol rules, including allowing people with drinks to walk freely at events and circulate in retail areas of festivals.

“The proposed changes will remove unnecessary barriers and restrictions,” he said in a release. “This will provide Ontarians with a more enjoyable experience and improve tourism and local economies.”

Tony Pethakas, manager of Mezes restaurant, a Taste of the Danforth participant, welcomed the news that patrons could soon enjoy all the food and activities the festival offers with a pint in hand.

“I’m excited about the proposed changes,” he said. “I think it both enhances the experience for the visitor and benefits the small businesses that are a part of Taste of the Danforth.”

Bentley said that the government would “only proceed with changes that would not compromise enforcement of the law,” and plans to expand enforcement options against those who violate liquor laws, including the introduction of fines.

Other proposed changes include extending the period when alcohol can be served at charitable events and weddings from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m., and allowing all-inclusive vacation packages similar to those offered in Caribbean countries, to be sold in the province.

The move is part of the five-year Open Ontario Plan to stimulate the economy.

Michael Chan, Ontario’s minister of tourism and culture, said that the new rules will better serve Ontarians and help generate revenue for event organizers, vineyards, spas, bars and restaurants.

“Festivals and events are powerful economic drivers. They draw tourists to our communities, create jobs and stimulate local economies,” he said.

Each year, tourism contributes $22 billion to Ontario’s economy and supports approximately 300,000 direct and indirect jobs. Festivals and events like Taste of the Danforth, which attracted 1.5 million people in 2010, generate more than 22,000 jobs in Ontario annually.

The government is currently conducting a one-month consultation period regarding its proposals. If reaction to liberalizing liquor laws is positive, changes could be in place in time for this year’s Taste of the Danforth. The province is accepting email submissions from people at [email protected].