Rural Alberta bar manager says provincial laws hurting business

A manager of a small town Alberta hotel says the provincial government is putting him out of business.

Smoking, drinking laws causing loss of business, says Bowden Hotel bar manager

Bowden Hotel and bar manager John May says he's already had one other small town bar owner say they'd join a class-action lawsuit against the province. (CBC)

A manager of a small town Alberta hotel says the provincial government is putting him out of business.

"The small town hotel is becoming extinct,” says Bowden Hotel and bar manager John May.

"When I started here we employed 12 people. Now, we employ four."

May says he'll likely be out of business by the end of summer, and he says it will be because of smoking and drinking laws.

He says the rules have already forced fellow small-town hotels to close, as customers choose to stay home rather than risk having their vehicles impounded if they are caught with even one drink in their systems.

“The Crossfield Hotel is closed in the last year. The Trochu Bar is closed. The Didsbury Hotel is closed. And now just a couple weeks ago, the Empress Hotel in Lacombe is closed because of the non-smoking and .05."

May says the 2008 law banning smoking inside bars hurt, but says the more recent drinking-and-driving regulation — rules that allow authorities to impound cars, and fine those driving below the legal limit of .08 - but above .05 — was the fatal blow.

"With them two laws, we lost 50 per cent of our business."

May says he’s started to talk to a lawyer, and is considering a class-action lawsuit against the province. He's asking other small town bar owners to come forward.

Kerry Towle is MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake and says her Wildrose Party is still pushing to reverse the .05 rules.

"Anything under .08 is not against the law, and is perfectly legal to do. And penalizing them administratively so that the province can just take more money, and forcing businesses to close, is not the answer."

If the small-town hotels continue to close, patrons say it won't just be the owners feeling the loss — it will be the community as well.

Customer Rob Heerema says many older customers smoked inside for decades.

 "I don't know what they're doing. They're sitting at home alone I think, getting bored," he said.

"This was their meeting place, this is what their social thing was. And it was neat to listen to all the stories."

With files from Alana Baker/CBC

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