Town council wants to repeal the business hour bylaw

"It takes time to study whether a bylaw like this is effective or not.” — Loanna Gulka.

Town council wants to repeal the contentious business hours bylaw.

The 5-1 vote in favour of the annulment, with the only dissenting vote cast by Loanna Gulka, came during the regular meeting of the council Feb. 11, during which councillors were told a bylaw must be drafted to rescind the current one.

The current bylaw restricts the sale of liquor from liquor stores and off-sales liquor to 10 p.m. Some waivers have been given in the case of Almost Midnight Madness, New Year’s Eve and the week of Ponoka Stampede, allowing liquor sales after 10 p.m. and liquor store owners have advocated the repeal.

Coun. Tim Falkiner made the proposal to repeal the bylaw and

Coun. Loanna Gulka was the only person to speak against the motion. She said time and study is needed to see if the bylaw has made Ponoka a safer community, and researchers have said as much.

“It takes time to study whether a bylaw like this is effective or not,” said Gulka.

She believes two to three years are needed to gather enough information.

“I’m asking for the time to see what happens after that time period. To gain a proper statistical overview of whether it’s working for this community or not,” added Gulka.

Coun. Carla Prediger feels the strategies used to pass this bylaw were not conducive to how other areas try to bring community safety. She has seen initiatives that have addressed drug addiction and homelessness. “But it came from the community asking for support, whether it be protective services or whether it be council.”

In meeting with RCMP Staff Sgt. Cameron Chisholm, she was concerned that no other safety methods were thought of. She wants to see other strategies looked at rather than restricting businesses.

She said she saw the preventive response to a particular situation produce a punitive consequence and wanted to know what other preventive programs were in place right now.

There is already the legislation for the sales of liquor, said Coun. Falkiner. “The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission is in charge of alcohol related products licensing in this province. I think they do a fantabulous job and I only know that because I represent them out of Stettler,” said Coun. Tim Falkiner.

“If we don’t rescind this, we’re letting it open to set ourselves above them (AGLC),” said Falkiner.

He suggests if council really wants to change the rules, the way is to lobby the AGLC or province of Alberta rather than hurt local businesses.

“It’s a financial cost to numerous businesses in town, not only liquor related businesses. How’s that going to look when we attract businesses to town and we’re stepping all over businesses that we already have,” he questioned.

Mayor Rick Bonnett said council would not make a quick decision on repealing the bylaw and would give residents the opportunity to voice their opinions on it. “We do want some public input from both sides.”

A draft repeal bylaw is expected in the near future.

The owners of several liquor stores were in the gallery to find out what council would decide. Coun. Marc Yaworski had to recuse himself from the discussion as he is an owner of the Leland Hotel, which is affected by the bylaw.