Nova Scotia’s Antiquated Liquor Laws Need a Complete Overhaul

This week, the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia tabled legislation to allow delivery services such as Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes deliver beer and wine on behalf of the restaurants providing the food. It’s a fairly simple idea and it shouldn’t really be too contentious. Except our current liquor legislation is built on an 80-year-old post-Prohibition foundation and really isn’t designed for the world of apps and mobile devices.

The last time the act was meaningfully changed, flip phones hadn’t been invented and nine people knew what the internet was. The Tory bill didn’t get far — the fall session of the legislature wrapped up on Wednesday. (In any case, there’s little hope of these proposed changes passing anytime soon unless the governing Liberals take up the cause.)

The idea behind this proposed legislative change certainly isn’t an earth-shattering innovation. It’s been mused about since these delivery services began gobbling up restaurant market share a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, our liquor laws just aren’t built to withstand this kind of thinking.

Two years ago in Nova Scotia, there were high-fives all around when we were able to make minor changes in the law to allow somebody to sit down in a restaurant or on a patio and have a couple of drinks without having to order a meal. But remember … just two drinks, then you gotta go.

The other night, I was out with my 21-year-old son and friends for dinner and a movie. We chose to have a bite in a nearby lounge/restaurant. Even though he doesn’t drink, didn’t order an alcoholic drink, and was with his 61-year-old father, he was unable to sit in the “lounge” section at 6:30 in the evening without producing his photo ID. Our table of 10 was forced to get up and move to another section in the restaurant, literally two tables away. The justification was if a liquor inspector showed up, and my son was in that section and unable to produce ID, the business could lose its licence. Seriously.

These idiotic, red-tape-ridden rules proliferate like a bad, decades-long hangover from a time when the “Ladies Beverage Room” on Spring Garden Road was exactly what it suggests. Remember, unescorted women were not allowed in taverns as late as the early 1970s in Halifax. The same legislation has been tinkered and toyed with, but the last substantive change was done 30 years ago and the act still contains language and ideas that went out with the hoop skirt.

Last year, I was pleased to sit and watch as the legislature threw the Motor Vehicle Act into the dustbin of history and replace it with the Traffic Safety Act. Again, there were high-fives all-round, after all it had only taken three successive governments, of three different political stripes, 10 years to agree that a piece of legislation designed so automobiles could co-exist with horses, carriages and trolleys, could no longer handle the advent of autonomous cars and trucks.

It’s time to apply the same thinking to the Liquor Control Act. God bless the poor souls in the bureaucracy who need to pound round pegs into rhombic holes to make even the smallest of changes in how liquor policy is interpreted. We don’t need another amendment, we need a new framework for the 21st century for recreational substances.

With the advent of legal cannabis and all that entails, the growth of the local wine industry, boutique distilleries, craft brewers and the rest, the entire approach to government’s role in regulation, distribution, and especially point of sale, needs an overhaul.

Yes, we have seen some minuscule improvement. Nova Scotia finally allowed importation of beer and wine for personal use, there was the aforementioned relaxation of the “you must eat to drink” rule, and the elimination in 2018 of the last remaining “dry” jurisdictions in the province. (I kid you not.) However, there’s still a bounty of idiotic red tape and outdated ideas binding together Chapter 260 of the Revised Statutes, 1989, An Act to Provide for the Regulation and Sale of Alcoholic Liquors.

Alcoholic liquors? Really?

While politicians fear opening up the act to scrutiny may activate some resurgent temperance movement, or worse, the scrutiny of Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer, it’s time our government moves this sector into the present. Why? Because it’s 2020. Tinkering around the edges hasn’t worked for 30 years and it isn’t working now.

This article was originally published October 31st, 2019 in the Chronicle Herald

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