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Booze at 9 a.m., online gambling and more combat sports feature heavily in PC budget

A host of potential changes to laws governing alcohol sales and consumption and gambling were outlined in the current government’s first budget unveiled on Thursday.

Province wants to loosen rules on alcohol consumption and gambling

Proposals related to alcohol sales and consumption were key populist components of the Ontario government's 2019 budget. (CBC)

The Progressive Conservative government says it's time to "treat adults like adults" and let Ontarians drink in public parks, bet on single-game sporting events and make it easier for venues to host amateur "combative sports."

A host of potential changes to laws governing alcohol sales and consumption and gambling were outlined in the current government's first budget unveiled on Thursday.

The PCs say they will introduce new legislation to permit municipalities to "designate public areas, such as parks, for the consumption of alcohol." The government says the change would align Ontario with other provinces such as B.C., Alberta and Quebec.

Premier Doug Ford and Finance Minister Vic Fedeli mused about such a change when introducing Ontario's plans for retail cannabis late last year.

The legislation would also allow licensed establishments to begin serving alcohol at 9 a.m., seven days per week, and advertise various "happy hour" promotions. Further, breweries and wineries would be able to promote their products at manufacturing sites by "removing the prescribed serving sizes for 'by the glass' licences," the budget says.

Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said the government trusts people to make the "right decisions" when it comes to drinking alcohol and gambling. (Pierre-Olivier Bernatcez/CBC)

Earlier this week, the provincial government revealed it would move to allow tailgating at various kinds of events.

The province also says it will allow Ontario casinos to advertise free alcohol for gamblers, review ways to make beer cheaper of Legions, and continue planning for beer, wine and liquor sales in corner stores and big box stores.

Speaking to reporters, Liberal Leader John Fraser said he was discouraged by how much of the new budget was dedicated to alcohol-related proposals.

"I do not understand the obsession with alcohol. We've been talking about alcohol for the duration of this government," he said.

Fraser added that he's not necessarily opposed to the government's proposed changes, but says they are things that should be addressed "when you've got the other things that are most important to people taken care of.

"And they're not doing that."

Online gambling changes

The 283-page budget also contains numerous gambling-related initiatives. The provincial government says it will push the federal government to allow betting on single-game sporting events, something that is currently prohibited in the Criminal Code of Canada.

Similarly, it wants to open up Ontario's online gambling opportunities, a marketplace that is currently maintained and regulated solely by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the current government has relinquished its obligation of social responsibility.

"When you make these kinds of changes, you have to recognize they will have impacts and then plan to address those impacts," she said.

Fedeli, however, said the PC government trusts "people to make the right decisions.

"Our budget again is all about protecting what matters most. In this case, we know that we can trust families to do the right thing. It's a very small piece of our budget," he told reporters.

A 'destination' for combat sports

The PCs also say they will introduce legislation that will make Ontario a "destination" for professional and amateur combat sports.

"Ontario's rules and regulations for combative sports such as mixed martial arts, boxing and kickboxing are out of date. This presents safety concerns for participants and barriers for business," the budget says.

Ontario's Progressive Conservative government said in its 2019 that it want the province to become a "destination" for combat sports events. (John Locher/Associated Press)

The new legislation will allow for a wider variety of combat sport events to be held in Ontario, the government says.

"These events will not only support athletes and provide a source of entertainment for the people of Ontario, but can also serve as an attraction for out-of-town visitors and present various career and business opportunities, including additional revenue for municipalities, media, good manufacturing and retail."

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