Toronto

City's top doc warns of alcohol perils in new report on PC budget

The city's medical officer of health has a warning about the potential consequences of measures in the provincial budget that loosen restrictions on alcohol consumption.

'This isn't about picking a fight with Doug Ford,' board of health chair says

The city's medical officer of health is warning that alcohol is potentially dangerous, and the province's loosening of the rules surrounding drinking needs to be closely studied.

The city's medical officer of health is warning of serious side effects from provincial budget measures that loosen restrictions on alcohol consumption.

Dr. Eileen de Villa's report, released Friday afternoon, warns the soon-to-be implemented changes could trigger new social and healthcare problems for the city, and prescribes more consultation with municipalities before the new measures are put in place.

"The proposed provincial changes significantly challenge efforts to promote responsible drinking, to protect the public's health and safety and to address the potential economic cost of alcohol consumption," she wrote in the report.

In April, Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government of Premier released its first budget, which will allow tailgate parties at some public events, as well as 9 a.m. bar openings.

In addition, the government is also legalizing alcohol consumption in parks and has also pledged to expand alcohol sales to convenience stores.
 
At the time, the PCs said the new rules would align Ontario's liquor laws with those in other provinces such as B.C., Alberta and Quebec.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, wants the city manager to look into the province's proposed changes and recommend ways the city could help to mitigate the potential hazards of easier access to booze. (CBC)

De Villa's report makes several recommendations. She wants the city manager to assess the impact of the new provincial rules on city services and "determine appropriate actions. This will support the City's ongoing efforts to promote responsible alcohol consumption at events held on City property."

It's not clear what those actions could be.

She also recommends asking the province to consult with municipal health boards about "how to mitigate the health and social costs of increased alcohol access."

Health board chair Joe Cressy calls the province's proposed liquor law changes 'shortighted.' (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

An emailed statement Friday afternoon from Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips seems to leave the door open to consultation.

"We recognize there is a lot more to be done as we work to expand alcohol sales and we will continue working with stakeholders to focus our efforts on modernizing Ontario's well-established beverage alcohol sector," the statement reads.

"We want to ensure any proposed improvements would uphold the safety and health of our children and youth, our communities, and our roads."

De Villa's report will be presented to the Toronto Board of Health at its meeting on Monday.

She is also scheduled to give a presentation at the meeting about other health implications she says flow from the provincial budget. No details on that presentation were available Friday.

Not 'picking a fight' with Ford, board of health chair says

City councillor and board chair Joe Cressy said Friday the report highlights the need for more research.

"When it comes to alcohol distribution, public policy needs to be guided by evidence, and research and best practices, not buck-a-beer slogans," he said.

"When you make rash decisions around alcohol distribution on the basis of slogans you end up getting bad health results."

Although he called the provincial changes "shortsighted," Cressy also said his primary concern is ensuring that Torontonians' health isn't compromised.

"Fundamentally, this isn't about the city of Toronto picking a fight with Doug Ford," he said.

"Rather, it's about approaching alcohol policy from a thoughtful and a nuanced lens rather than a quick, buck-a-beer sloganeering effort."

About the Author

Michael Smee

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Michael Smee has worked in print, radio, TV and online journalism for many years. You can reach him at michael.smee@cbc.ca

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