A bylaw restricting liquor store hours was given first reading at the Nov. 27 town council meeting.
The proposal is the same as Wetaskiwin’s, which was passed in 2009, explained CAO Brad Watson. “Since that time word has come that the town has been receiving a possible spin-off from the City of Wetaskiwin.”
The proposal states, “Patrons are now visiting the neighbouring communities whose business hours match their needs.” It also explains that Ponoka RCMP have expressed a concern this is happening in town and there is a security concern.
There have been several meetings on adopting this proposal over recent years and Watson said there has not been much concern over it.
The bylaw would regulate the hours of operation for liquor stores, and hotel liquor off-sales from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Liquor delivery services would close at 10:30. Pawnshops would be restricted to sales from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Coun. Loanna Gulka feels it is worth speaking with businesses about the bylaw. “I think we need to do our due diligence towards the community before we make any decisions.”
Coun. Rick Bonnett wants feedback on the bylaw to make it more related to Ponoka. “Maybe there’s some changes and betterments we could do that would make it a more Ponoka bylaw rather than just a copy of Wetaskiwin’s.”
Coun. Doug Gill recalled a meeting with the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) which had no issues with the hours of operations for liquor establishments in town but he feels it is important to discuss the bylaw. “Closing hours were certainly not a problem for them, but since then things have changed, there’s new outlets on the horizon…I think it’s important to revisit this and do a first reading to bear out the books.”
He believes input from the different stakeholders will help draft a bylaw useful for Ponoka.
Liquor sales are regulated by the provincial AGLC which restricts sales from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. for liquor stores and 10 a.m. to 2:50 a.m. for hotel off-sales such as the Leland Hotel and the Royal Hotel. There are many rules for liquor sales as defined by the AGLC and some liquor storeowners feel it should not be up to the municipalities to define business hours if the AGLC already has that role.
Hammy’s Spirits owner Jim Hamilton is against the proposal. “My thoughts are town council never has any business interfering in private industry.”
His store is open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day. He suggests if councillors want to determine the hours for businesses they might as well consider operating hours for doctors and the RCMP, which are publicly funded.
One of the issues Hamilton sees is the opening of the new Liquor Depot, which has extended hours in some cities. “Am I thrilled that there’s a new liquor store coming to town? No, but am I going to speak against it? Never, because that is what private industry is and private industry sets what the market can bear.”
Representative for the Liquor Depot, Grant Smith, would not comment on the proposed bylaw but said the majority of the company’s stores operate Monday to Wednesday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday to Saturday, and close at 9 p.m. on Sunday.
Chad Jones, co-owner of The Liquor Store, operates at similar hours to the Liquor Depot and he does not agree with the proposal. “The AGLC already has guidelines for us and we can stay open till 2 a.m. but we choose not to.”
The only time Jones extends his hours to midnight is during the Ponoka Stampede as it is profitable to do so.
“I don’t think that the town should be getting involved, in my opinion. I don’t think that the problems in Wetaskiwin are here in Ponoka,” stated Jones. “What does Wetaskiwin have to do with our business?”
He feels Wetaskiwin is not a fair comparison of what is happening in Ponoka and would prefer to deal with the AGLC rather than the town.
One of the reasons behind the proposal is there may be patrons visiting from surrounding communities, which has led to an increase liquor sales later in the evening. This bylaw is meant to assist with proactive enforcement. RCMP Staff Sgt. Cameron Chisholm said he would prefer to hold his comments on the bylaw until there is a public discussion.
There was mention during the council meeting to tentatively hold an informal discussion with councillors during Coffee With Council for some time in January but it has not been confirmed, however Watson feels different stakeholders will be invited.
Director of protective services, Ted Dillon is also waiting for information from the City of Wetaskiwin stating how the bylaw has affected loitering and business issues. Wetaskiwin representatives did state the restrictions have helped although there are no statistics to pinpointing the bylaw as the solution, explained Dillon.
The only two hotel off-sales businesses in Ponoka are the Leland Hotel and the Royal Hotel. The former operates from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. from Sunday to Wednesday and 10 a.m. to 2:50 a.m. Thursday to Saturday, and the latter 10 a.m. to 2:50 a.m. seven days a week.
Fines for each business category are the same:
• First offence within one year, $1,000.
• Second offence within one year, $2,500.
• Third and subsequent offences within one year, $5,000.