Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

On booze and pot, Toronto could stand to chill out: Elliott

Parks on Tap has been bringing craft brews to city green spaces since 2016 in Philadelphia, Pa. It's the basis for a program being pitched for Toronto parks.
Parks on Tap has been bringing craft brews to city green spaces since 2016 in Philadelphia, Pa. It's the basis for a program being pitched for Toronto parks.

On a Saturday in June, I drank a beer on Queen Street West.

It was one of the first scorcher days of the summer. The sidewalks were packed. The sun was unrelenting. And then, as if by magic, my girlfriend and I came across a couple of beer company reps who were handing out sample cans of a new radler.

Not my favourite kind of booze, but the day was hot and the beer was cold. We drank with dozens of other people on the sidewalk. It was one of those perfect summer moments.

It was also totally illegal.

Such is usually the case with drinking alcohol in public in this town. Provincial and city rules turn people who are just enjoying a drink into scofflaws. Whenever you crack open a tall boy on a Toronto Island beach or pour a glass of sangria at a Trinity Bellwoods picnic, you’re risking a fine.

It’s a situation that’s out-of-step with the drinking laws in other cities like London and Berlin — cities where drinking in public is generally permitted, so long as you’re not causing a ruckus.

That’s a more sensible way to handle things.

So I’m glad to see changes might finally be brewing for Toronto. City hall’s parks committee voted to Friday commission a report on allowing beer trucks to set up in city parks, using Philadelphia’s successful “parks on tap” program as a model. The report will come back to committee in January.

I hope the program is implemented quickly. But I also have an even greater hope: I hope it spurs both the municipal and provincial governments to take a look at loosening up the alcohol laws governing where and when people can enjoy a drink.

Without that, it’s likely that the beer-truck-in-parks program could follow a typical Toronto pattern, where a combination of stubborn provincial law and city hall’s tendency to overthink things leads to onerous requirements for things like elaborate fencing, expensive permits, added security and who knows what else.

A better solution might start by letting a simple two word phrase guide policy development: chill out.

Liberalizing alcohol rules will not cause chaos. Primarily, all it would do is legalize behaviour that’s already widespread — at Friday’s meeting, Coun. Mike Layton acknowledged that Trinity Bellwoods is a “de facto open beer garden” — while also creating more opportunities for craft brewers and other businesses.

There’s nothing unique about Torontonian’s approach to drinking that means the same loose rules that work in other cities cannot work here. If issues do actually crop up, they can be dealt with through further local reforms.

That same approach could have helped with the province’s foray into marijuana legalization. The plan announced Friday to establish separate LCBO-style retail stores to sell cannabis smells strongly of overregulation, and upcoming decisions about store locations will almost certainly lead to further talk of restrictions through bylaws.

This tendency for governments to attempt to anticipate every single problem — real or imagined — on issues like booze and pot is the kind of thing that needlessly makes people into law-breakers.

It’s also the kind of thing that takes a perfect summer moment and makes it illegal.

This post was originally published at on 2017-09-10T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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