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Why Ontario ended happy hour in 1984

After just two years, the Ontario government decided that it couldn't combat drunk driving yet allow bars to sell discounted drinks.

'You were being enticed to have a drink and then drive on'

The Ontario government announces it will no longer allow the sale of discounted drinks in bars and restaurants. 1:32

In 1984, the Ontario government announced it would put an end to happy hour.

The practice had been introduced two years earlier and allowed licensed establishments in the province to sell discounted or two-for-one drinks.

Consumer Affairs minister Robert Elgie said the government had consulted with industry associations about the amendment that banned happy hour. (Newshour/CBC Archives)

Mick E. Fynns, the downtown Toronto bar seen in the clip above, was a typical example.

It offered "reduced prices on selected brands"  from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. — just when people were leaving work. 

In the legislature, Consumer Affairs Minister Robert Elgie announced that effective immediately, "no price variation be permitted on beverage alcohol."

Outside the chamber, Elgie described what the effect of happy hour had been.

"The perception of it ... and I think it was the reality was that on the way home, you were being enticed to have a drink and then drive on," he said.

According to reporter Robert Fisher, the government made the move in response to concerns from the public about drinking and driving.

'We lose money' with happy hour

Advocates for tougher measures against drunk driving like the end of happy hour in Ontario. 1:19

For their part, bar owners said the loss of happy hour wouldn't make much difference to them.

"After work I would like to come and have a beer, and if it's cheaper that'll get me in here," said a patron who supported happy hour. (Newshour/CBC Archives)

"Financially, I don't think we're going to be losing business," said a bar owner. "The only people that are benefiting is the customer."

Customers having a drink agreed that happy hour had been an effective promotion to get them to drink more.

"Absolutely," said one patron. "Once you get going, it's hard to stop."

Carl Burden, whose organization Alcohol and Drug Concerns had actively opposed happy hour, was pleased with the changes.

"We believe that the introduction of happy hour ... means that people are going to be leaving and driving home," he said. "This probably already has caused serious problems in Ontario."