49 proposed rules for restricting liquor sales in La Ronge include no alcohol on cheque days
5% sales levy, ban on selling alcohol on 'month-end paydays' and 'Canada Child Benefit payment days' proposed
Proposed new rules for how alcohol should be sold in La Ronge, Sask. have stirred debate and considerable pushback in the small northern community.
On Sunday, Tania Colbert, the general manager of Northland Motor Hotel — which includes a bar known to locals as "Lands" plus a beer and wine store — posted the recommendations on her Facebook page.
The 49 wide-ranging rules had been drafted by a Northern Alcohol Strategy committee tasked by the provincial government with suggesting ways to prevent "alcohol-fueled harm and crime."
Last week, the recommendations reached the desks of local businesspeople.
"We were blindsided by them," said Colbert.
The recommendations include:
- Prohibiting alcohol sales, at both bars and stores, on Sundays, statutory holidays, month-end paydays and Canada Child Benefit payment days.
- Levying a five-per-cent alcohol sales tax on bars and stores, with the proceeds going to the town "to support initiatives to increase the well-being and public safety of the community."
- Limiting bar hours to 11 a.m. to 1 .am., and liquor store hours to 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (The beer and wine store at the hotel is open until 3 a.m., Monday to Saturdays.)
- "No 'Last call.'"
Colbert says the proposed levy could cost the hotel $90,000 a year.
"We have [video lottery machines] in the bar, so if we're limiting the hours that we're allowed to be open, then it's going to cause a ripple effect with all other things that we do," she said.
But her concerns aren't just financial in nature.
"It's a human rights issue when you're telling people that they can't be in the bar on certain days," said Colbert.
'Hell, no,' says mayor
City councillors had been presented with the rules two weeks before and had a similar reaction, recalls Mayor Ron Woytowich.
"[The committee] showed up with all these recommendations, already done, and they asked council to endorse them, to support them, so that they can apparently go to the provincial government with it," said Woytowich.
"We started reading some of them and said, 'Hell no. We don't agree with shutting every bar down on every cheque day.' That's when we said, 'Nuh-uh. We're not supporting [this].'"
"We know there is a problem," he added in reference to alcohol abuse in the community. "But that's not a solution. We just basically said, 'You're out to lunch.'"
Carla Frohaug, one of the committee members, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Sharp divide on Facebook
Colbert's public posting of the recommendations on Facebook sparked dozens of sharply-divided replies.
Colbert and representatives from several businesses met with the mayor and council, plus a representative of the committee that drafted the recommendations, before Wednesday night's city council meeting.
Woytowich said he wanted to gather feedback on the recommendations from alcohol-selling businesses.
According to Colbert, councillors at the meeting said the reduced hours are "something they won't go after" and also proposed an alternative measure that would only see a levy of five cents charged for every can or ounce of alcohol sold.
"The council and the mayor really listened to what the owners and the managers had to say in the meeting," said Colbert.
More discussion to come
Colbert said only the first 16 out of 49 recommendations were discussed, with the remaining 33 to be reviewed during a followup meeting in August.
"Yes, alcohol is a problem in the town," said Colbert, "but the managers and the owners are going to come up with other solutions, like programming ideas and how, if we want to donate, where it could be used — things that will actually help rather than cutting down business."
The La Ronge and District Chamber of Commerce has scheduled a July 18 meeting for its members to discuss the recommendations.