Testing tolerance: Edmonton pilot could allow drinking in parks

Sipping on a glass of wine or beer while visiting an Edmonton park may soon be legal if city council agrees on a pilot project pitched by administration. 

Survey shows 71 per cent of respondents support alcohol in city park and picnic areas

Municipalities must designate areas for alcohol consumption within their own boundaries, separate from provincial parks. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Sipping on a glass of wine or beer while visiting an Edmonton park may soon be legal if city council agrees on a pilot project pitched by administration. 

The citizen services branch suggests the city sanction alcohol in select parks from May 28 to Oct. 11 this year.

The idea is based on a survey done between Feb. 22 and March 7, in which 71 per cent of the 15,550 respondents said they support alcohol consumption in park areas. The results were included in a report posted Thursday.

Seven parks in the river valley are on the list for a total of 47 proposed designated drinking areas: Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Whitemud, William Hawrelak, Government House, Victoria, Gold Bar and Rundle. 

Alcohol consumption would be permitted from 11 a.m. to 9  p.m. 

In January this year, council directed administration to identify sites that would be appropriate for alcohol consumption and then present the findings in a report. 

Coun. Jon Dziadyk spearheaded the request, in part because alcohol in outdoor areas is allowed in many other countries and jurisdictions. 

"This is about responsible alcohol consumption," Dziadyk said. "It's a good opportunity to set some rules and let our hair down a little bit in a controlled fashion — with rules and expectations."

The report goes in front of council's community and public services committee in just under two weeks. 

The Alberta government has allowed drinking in 28 day-use picnic areas in provincial parks since last June, up from the 14 identified in 2019. 

Municipalities must designate parks within their boundaries before people can legally drink outside.

Survey says

About 85 per cent of respondents who support the pilot said drinking wine or beer completes an enjoyable food experience.

Of the 11,000 people who support the pilot, 82 per cent noted that people are already drinking in parks. 

"A lot of people are breaking rules with alcohol consumption so it's an unregulated current activity," Dziadyk said. "So hopefully this will produce results where people are less likely to be sneaking a beer while they're maybe watching a softball game."

Nearly 50 per cent of survey respondents said they're more likely to visit a park in the future if alcohol is permitted while 23 per cent said they are less likely to visit a park in the future if the pilot goes ahead.

Those who don't want the city to sanction alcohol in parks cite public safety as their top concern with 92 per cent of those opposed in the survey saying they're worried about disorderly behaviour and the potential for drinking and driving. 

Administration also consulted the Edmonton police, Alberta Health Services and Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis to get their perspectives on a potential pilot.

City administration will analyze findings from the pilot — including complaints — for council to review and consider for future plans to allow alcohol in park areas. 

Dziadyk said he didn't suggest the idea because of COVID-19 only but said the extra space and outdoor areas to socialize and dine would be welcome. 

COVID-19 public health restrictions would apply at the sites and peace officers would monitor and enforce infractions within their authority while the orders last. 

"Ultimately I wouldn't mind seeing it spread out across the city further but we'll see how the public reacts to it this summer first," Dziadyk said. 


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