The head of the Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies says it's unusual to serve alcohol at board meetings.

Thunder Bay’s Canadian Lakehead Exhibition — which is legally incorporated under Ontario's Agricultural and Horticultural Associations Act — has a bar in its boardroom that is always accessible for directors. While CLE leadership say it's common for fair boards in Canada to have bars, OAAS general manager Mark Beaven says he's not aware of that being the case with other agricultural societies, including his own.

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Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies general manager Mark Beaven says he's not aware of serving alcohol at board meetings being a practice with other agricultural societies, including his own, at the Dungannon Agriculture Society in southwestern Ontario. (Supplied)

Beavan, who is with the Dungannon Agriculture Society in southwestern Ontario, said he'd be concerned about the liability risks in providing board members with drinks after meetings.  

"I can assure you we don't have an open bar, we do not have alcohol," he said. The only time that there's alcohol being served at our facility is when there is actually a licenced event there."

Recently Lakehead Exhibition director Linda Gambee was removed from the board, she said because of her objections to how the bar in the boardroom is used. The board, on the other hand, said she was in conflict for threatening a lawsuit against members.

‘Times have changed’

Beaven said he doesn't know the specifics of the CLE situation — or whether allegations concerning drinking and driving are founded.

"Agricultural societies have been around for ... anywhere from 150 to 200 years," he added.

"Times have changed and society has changed ... and I would urge ... any organization to realize that," he said. "The main thing is following the laws of the land and also limiting any risk [to] insurance exposure."

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The bar that's available to Thunder Bay CLE board members for free. A reflective mirror in the photo has been blurred out to protect the identity of the person who took the picture. (Supplied)

While the association doesn't have the authority to tell its members what to do, Beaven said serving alcohol in the boardroom is a bad idea.

"Any organization that … allows that to happen, I would urge them to seriously rethink those positions from a legal standpoint," he said. "But also from an insurance risk standpoint."

As for who has been paying for the drinks, the CLE says the money comes from the exhibition's general operations.

Beaven said his association doesn't take a position on how its members spend their money, but noted there are probably better ways to spend that money.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario reports the CLE boardroom’s liquor license expired six months ago — and it has not applied to renew the licence.

Even without a license, board members and invited guests can legally drink in the meeting room, as long as no alcohol is being sold, the commission reports. The board is subject to rules similar to a private party in a home — including the requirement for responsible serving.