Booze bylaw passes

Last call for alcohol. Ponoka’s business hours bylaw has passed by a vote of 4-3; liquor stores and off-sales liquor outlets must close

Last call for alcohol.

Ponoka’s business hours bylaw has passed by a vote of 4-3; liquor stores and off-sales liquor outlets must close by 10 p.m. — except during the official days of the Ponoka Stampede.

Third reading of the bylaw was passed at council’s May 28 regular meeting, which left liquor storeowners stunned.

Mayor Larry Henkelman discussed the bylaw after Coun. Loanna Gulka made the motion to approve third reading. “This of course is quite a controversial bylaw.”

He called on councillors to put some thought behind their decision, as their job is to represent the community as a whole. Sometimes council must deal with issues that are not popular and a vote for or against could be seen negatively. He referred to trees at the airport council decided to cut down.

“There was a lot of people in favour of it, there was a lot of people against it,” said Henkelman. “As councillors we’re taught to represent the community as a whole.”

Individual groups should not take preference in a decision.

Much time and discussion has been spent on the bylaw, explained Coun. Rick Bonnett and his hope was for more public input at the last meeting. He feels a conduct bylaw attached to the liquor hours bylaw would have been prudent. “As a conduct bylaw with this when the RCMP came to us with this from the start would’ve probably been a good thing to throw in at the same time.”

Hindsight is going to be 20/20, suggests Coun. Doug Gill. Issues such as overtime for police officers and impaired drivers are among the many issues that come to light when dealing with this bylaw and he wondered if the bylaw would solve those problems. “I don’t know. Are we doing the right thing? It’s a step in the right direction.”

He spoke of Hobbema and whether that is part of the problem.

“I’ve maintained for a while if this is really an issue with the First Nations neighbours from the north, they should be players in this. What’s leaving our community is going to end up in their community,” said Gill.

The only councillor to actually speak in favour of the bylaw was Coun. Loanna Gulka. She spoke with people on both sides of the liquor bylaw who are affected and she suggests there is a large majority of people who support the bylaw. “I came at it from a direction, as Coun. Gill has also said, from a safe and healthy community’s perspective.”

Solving issues such as public drunkenness, impaired driving and late night liquor shopping are not going to be fixed with the bylaw may prove an effective tool. She thanked Jim Hamilton of Hammy’s Spirits, for his research and suggestions that there may be other ways to deal with liquor issues, especially when liquor sales is already regulated by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC).

“I just see a prevalent issue in this community,” added Gulka.

The community had plenty of time to speak on this bylaw, said Coun. Izak van der Westhuizen and he feels there are other ways to deal with offenders of AGLC rules. “We live in a community when the winters bring us long, long nights. What could happen between 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. could happen between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.”

A healthy community is important but this bylaw is not the answer, he added.

People who have been afraid to speak up have taken the time to talk with Coun. Shayne Steffen and he feels there is a quiet majority in favour of restricting hours. “I’ve had between 10 and 15 come up and tell me that they’re glad to see that there’s something like this on the books to address an issue that’s in the community.”

The province should step in with this issue, suggested Coun. John Jacobs. “For that reason I’m leaning towards not supporting it.”

Councillors Gulka, Bonnett, Steffen and Mayor Henkelman voted in favour, after which liquor store owners in the gallery left.

Reactions from the affected business owners

Leland Hotel owner Mark Yaworski, was not surprised by the decision but he does not know what is next for his business. “We have to think our whole business plan now.”

An important factor in his business is the liquor off-sales that comes from the hotel; the liquor sales bylaw also restricts off-sales.

“We’re going to have to lay some people off,” he explained. “We have to try to figure a way to survive.”

Yaworski suggests Gill made the best suggestion by dealing with the First Nations as the bylaw won’t solve any issues. He also challenges councillors who claim favouring the bylaw is a safety issue when during the Ponoka Stampede those rules don’t apply.

Hamilton thought the vote would be close but he is disappointed with council’s decision. “I hoped and would’ve expected that promotion of the town’s businesses would have happened…I am shocked that council made the decision they did.”

Staff may have their hours cut but Hamilton’s biggest concern is how this decision will affect the business community as people who come to buy liquor most likely buy other items too.

“I am far more worried for what it’s going to do to the grocery store than I am what it’s going to do with the liquor store,” he said. “I believe that we’ll see the entire downtown business community be negatively affected.”

Businesses won’t be able to supply consumer’s needs because shoppers will go to other municipalities and develop shopping habits elsewhere, he added. His concern is how the present council was voted in on the assumption of promoting business yet this decision does the opposite.

Hamilton also challenges councillors who state safety as a concern yet the town won’t pay $30,000 a year for a school resource officer.

“There’s not consistency in the council. If the money is coming out of someone else’s pocket and it doesn’t affect the council, they’re quite willing to take whatever costs it takes to make a stand but when the money comes out of their pockets, they’re not willing to do it,” he stated.

What happens now?

Affected businesses should expect a letter from the town advising the bylaw passed. CAO Brad Watson says the bylaw becomes effective as soon as it was passed by council but the town won’t enforce the rules until July. “So that it doesn’t mess with people and Alberta labour standards.”

Monitoring liquor sales will be conducted by bylaw officer Willie Jones but police can also enforce town bylaws. RCMP won’t prosecute but can deal with the bylaw, explained Watson.

Staff Sgt. Cameron Chisholm said in an email the RCMP’s position was outlined at the first public meeting and he has been instructed to make no comment. With regard to enforcement Chisholm provided this statement:

“The RCMP have the authority to enforce municipal, provincial and federal legislation as the contracted police service to the Town of Ponoka. We appreciate the co-operation of the public in complying with all legislation. Should a complaint be received with respect to the this bylaw, we would be required to act on that complaint.”

Ponoka joins the City of Wetaskiwin — and it is believed the community of Desmarais — in restricting the liquor sales times beyond provincial regulations.