The City of Ottawa is loosening its liquor rules to allow alcohol to be served and consumed on some streets and sidewalks in 2017, but party animals gearing up to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday shouldn't expect a lawless "Bourbon Street" bacchanal.
City staff are proposing allowing bars and restaurants to expand their patios and alcohol to be served within certain cordoned-off areas for special events.
Those kinds of provisions already take place during festivals, but staff say the 12-year-old municipal alcohol policy hasn't been updated to reflect the changes in Ontario liquor laws.
ByWard Market asks for 'Bourbon Street' pilot
But at a community and protective services committee meeting on Nov. 17, the executive director of the ByWard Market Business Improvement Area asked why the city would not allow patrons to wander with drinks during special events, if the body responsible for liquor laws — the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario — permits it.
"This is what happens: People will buy a drink at a restaurant on a patio. The stage is set up. The show is about to start. Oh, you can't leave with your drink. What happens? They guzzle their drink and then go out and buy another drink. So the whole policy is encouraging binge drinking," said Jasna Jennings.
If businesses with liquor licences applied together to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission for a special occasion permit, it would be in their interests to make sure each one complied with the collective permit, Jennings said.
"A badly run event is of no benefit to our members," said Jennings.
Jennings felt the so-called "Bourbon Street" model could help events grow and become even more successful, and suggested the city should consider a pilot project in defined business improvement areas.
But the chair of the community and protective services committee said the city's new alcohol policy would be unlikely to ever satisfy everyone.
"Obviously police have a very different perspective than business interests might have and I think we're all going to have to take a little bit of water with our wine," said Coun. Diane Deans.
More events and festivals being held
Deans acknowledged there is a certain urgency to update the municipal alcohol policy in time for 2017.
Ottawa has seen about a 50 per cent increase in the number of events taking place since 2013, when the city passed its special events bylaw, according to staff.
"In 2017, we expect even more events, some significant events but also smaller events, that may want to make use of this municipal alcohol policy," said Pierre Poirier, Ottawa's manager of security and emergency management.
City policies need to be updated so they are in sync with provincial legislation, said Poirier.
"We have a duty to clean that up," said Poirier.
'We are a fun city. We do so safely'
But councillors felt the policy that staff presented Thursday needed further discussion and, perhaps, tweaks.
The chair of the Ottawa Board of Health, Coun. Shad Qadri, for instance, asked how the report could make no reference to the health unit's position on alcohol as a health issue.
Earlier in November, the public health board discussed how to create a culture of drinking alcohol in moderation.
Meanwhile, Coun. Mathieu Fleury, wanted the policy to better dictate when an event should be considered "municipally significant", and deserving of a letter from the city that allows it to extend the hours when alcohol can be served.
Fleury, who is also on the organizing committee for local 2017 events, also sees the birthday year as a chance to try out new ideas, and to fine tune the alcohol policy.
"We are a fun city. We do so safely," said Fleury.