Councillors not ready to lift lid on booze consumption in public parks, will revisit next spring

Cafe Bicyclette waitress Sarah Laverdure, left, and cook Amithys Roquebrune with glasses of wine on the patio in Edmonton on March 12, 2019. Ian Kucerak / Postmedia, file

Edmontonians eager to sip an adult beverage at their picnic in the park this summer will have to put the cap back on the bottle as city councillors decided to hold off on permitting public liquor consumption.

Instead of moving forward with designating liquor zones in picnic spaces, councillors made the call to revisit the idea next spring and follow the lead of the provincial government, which is already making strides to amend strict liquor restrictions.

Before elected, Premier Jason Kenney vowed to amend “Prohibition-era restrictions” to allow the consumption of alcohol on the streets during festivals. The government recently removed the liquor ban on the remaining eight provincial parks.

But the city’s youth council said the lack of action is a missed opportunity for Edmonton to take the lead on a regulatory change that is long overdue.

“Council decided to adopt a wait-and-see approach,” said youth council member Thomas Banks following the community and public services committee decision Wednesday. “It’s a little unfortunate they didn’t have the initiative nor leadership necessary to make this a reality for Edmontonians before cold weather.”

The youth council brought forward a request to allow liquor consumption on picnic sites in public parks, arguing the move is in line with the province’s view of relaxing liquor restrictions.

Currently, residents can apply for $10 liquor consumption permits through the province to drink at picnic sites for specific events.

But Banks, an author of the youth council’s report that was at committee Wednesday, pointed to Calgary and Montreal as Canadian cities where significant public interest has spurred movement on the issue.

“This issue affects the ability of Edmontonians to use the parks for which they pay,” he said. “It’s an issue not of limiting people’s freedom, but expanding it.”

Questions about community engagement and enforcement swirled around the debate Wednesday morning, prompting councillors to vote down the recommendation. City officials will report back in the spring following the expected provincial changes.

“Administration’s perspective was that it was certainly worth exploring … but there’s some issues that required further engagement including is this something people want?” Coun. Sarah Hamilton said.

“We recommended administration wait to see what the province comes back with before they proceed with a further assessment on how this impacts the City of Edmonton. We don’t want to send them away to do a whole bunch of work and then the (regulations) change in a way we weren’t anticipating.”

This will allow the city to benefit from the province’s lead and not have to redo the whole process, said Coun. Andrew Knack, who also serves as a youth council adviser. By giving it a bit more time, Knack said he believes the city will be able to make a quick decision next year without needing to pour significant resources on research or engagement.

“I actually think they got what they were looking for, which is a path forward on this,” Knack said of the youth council’s failed recommendation.

Under current provincial regulations, municipalities can permit the consumption of liquor in public park picnic sites with the inclusion of a designated area and set hours.

duscook@postmedia.com

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