Instead of offering considered, proactive solutions devised and tailored to resolve community issues, NIMBY, kneejerk governments would rather borrow flawed ideas from one another for their cut and paste immediacy rather than efficacy.
Case in point: Ponoka’s drive to adopt an ill-conceived, racially-tinged bylaw from Wetaskiwin city council to restrict the hours of alcohol sales in town. This is a societal problem that will not be served with the quick fix this bylaw is intended to offer.
What this politically correct council has not dared to utter publicly is that it believes Wetaskwin’s landmark bylaw to discourage drunken Indians from buying late-night booze in that town has forced these nomadic pariahs to drive south instead, destroying the century-old fabric of our small town, prairie life.
Council doesn’t seem concerned about the alcoholic housewife who drives to the liquor store every morning to steady her shakes, the businessman who regularly has a few too many over lunch, or the war veteran who toasts his dead comrades and gets behind the wheel of his F-150 tank and weaves his way home. Out of sight, out of mind.
No, council wants to make it inconvenient for Hobbema residents to drive to Ponoka and feel unwelcome when they get here.
Every business in town will feel the backlash of this anti-business, anti-Hobbema bylaw.
And limiting the hours the one pawnshop in town can be open? Where’s the rationale for that? What’s next? Secondhand stores? Used bookstores? Garage sales? How long before they limit the hours drugstores can be open and victimized by chronic alcoholic thieves stealing mouthwash, cologne and shoe polish?
Council has no more business restricting a liquor store’s hours of operation than it does to raise the drinking age. If the liquor store owner thinks he can make a profit on what few sales there are after 11 p.m., who are a furniture salesman, retired teacher, physician, civil servant, lingerie sales associate, property manager, and contractor to tell him otherwise.
If tavern drunks are over-served, throw them out; if minors are being sold booze at a liquor store, give them a ticket. Then fine the management. What is council doing to demand responsible, legal service of alcohol in Ponoka and diligent enforcement of existing laws from the RCMP and liquor inspectors?
Why should council look to restrict the hours of operation for legal, licensed businesses in an effort to magically cure the community and a race of its demons? This bylaw certainly runs counter to the pro-business platform most councillors were elected on.
There is already an arsenal of provincial laws, municipal bylaws and parochial policies at council’s disposal to defend the community from the scourge of late-night alcohol purchases. Downtown, in a direct control (DC) district, council has the final say over developments; all uses should be discretionary.
The Town of Ponoka has allowed this “problem” to fester and grow downtown through decades of turning a blind eye to the incidence of violence and other alcohol-related problems. Downtown is dark, shabby and uninviting after dark, which perpetuates the development of bars, liquor stores and licensed restaurants. Council’s land use planning has done nothing to attempt to improve the quality of life for downtown residents, protect neighbouring premises from vandalism and robbery, or encourage a better quality of nightlife.
The town could attempt to gently squeeze the blight out of the downtown by setting minimum distances between licensed restaurants, liquor stores and taverns downtown, decreasing their density and proximity. Downtown is a convenient home to young and old residents on a limited income and to mental patients who may not drive and enjoy the services living downtown offers — including liquor sales on your doorstep.
When patrons can stumble from a restaurant where they have been over-served, to a bowling alley where they can knock down a few pins and quaff a few ales, to a tavern where intoxication is encouraged and then top off the evening driving home with a bottle picked up at the liquor store, it’s not really a question of race, or age or other characteristics that are causing the problem. Throughout that pub-crawler’s evening there were a number of opportunities for staff at these establishments to refuse service, call the patron a cab or call police. Rarely does this happen. It’s more likely an ambulance is called to deal with someone who has passed out or got into a fight.
The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (ALGC) already has laws to deal with bars and liquor stores who break the rules. But they are rarely enforced. Pulling one-armed bandits, firing staff and padlocking a tavern for liquor act violations would do more to encourage responsible consumption than restricting the off-premises sale of alcohol to a worker who wants to have a cold one at home after finishing a swing shift.
It defies logic that liquor delivery services would be prohibited from delivering a bottle to a residence after 10:30 p.m. It runs counter to the aim of reducing drinking and driving. The time of day booze is consumed in a private home is not council’s concern. This bylaw will move alcohol consumption out of homes and crowd more drunks into bars where liquor can be consumed until 3 a.m.
But remember council’s aim is to keep Hobbema residents on the reserve after the sun goes down.
There was a time when Wetaskiwin residents drove out Highway 13 to take Highway 2 to shop in Red Deer rather than risk misadventure when meeting a steady stream of drunk drivers on Highway 2A. Thankfully, educational programs — and attrition — have significantly reduced drunk driving occurrences and fatalities on the highway.
Ponoka residents want to live and raise a family in a community with a healthy and supportive social environment. Neither council nor its protective services department or RCMP has provided statistical evidence in support of this bylaw that current liquor store hours coupled with Wetaskiwin’s bylaw have led to an increase in bar fights, drinking and driving instances, domestic violence, underage drinking, vagrancy, vandalism or robberies in Ponoka. Police admit it’s anecdotal.
Clearly, this puritan council is within its rights to enact this bylaw — under the guise of acting to reduce crime rates and safeguard the health of the community. But this is a desperate measure by councillors looking to take the easy way out. There has been no hue and cry for reduced hours of service.
Businessmen and residents need to ask council what other action to deal with the safety, health and welfare of Ponoka residents has been taken over the years — and failed — that has led to this heavy-handed arbitrary bylaw. What planning tools have been implemented to quietly reduce the density of liquor outlets downtown? Are liquor store and tavern staff adequately trained to provide responsible service to patrons, including not selling liquor to intoxicated patrons? Have they discussed the issue with leaders in Hobbema?
Simply put, liquor store robberies occur when liquor stores are open. Few in Ponoka have been perpetrated after midnight. Forcing outlets to close at 10 p.m. will certainly eliminate robberies after 10 p.m.
Would restricting the hours Ponoka Town Hall is open reduce the number of ill-advised bylaws proposed by town council?