COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
James Allum, centre, chair of the public consultations on liquor and gaming in Manitoba, greets the audience with fellow board members Anneta Chomik, left, and Melanie Wight during Monday afternoon’s forum at the Victoria Inn.
Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst attempted to address why the city’s two previous casino plebiscites failed at a public consultation hearing in Brandon on Monday about revising Manitoba’s liquor and gaming laws."I believe personally that they were always designed to fail and there is a great deal of power when you hold the pencil and write the question," Decter Hirst said. "I know talking to the Aboriginal community in Brandon that the plebiscites were on Aboriginal economic opportunities and racism and never were plebiscites on gaming. I think there’s a lot to be said for that sentiment."
Decter Hirst also referenced Brandon’s past casino debates in supporting the proposed casino partnership it has with Tribal Councils Investment Group and the discussions to be had with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to secure a gaming licence and partnership.
"Sitting down with AMC is going to be a priority for us over the next couple of months and I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about consumer choice," Decter Hirst.
The committee, chaired by Fort Garry-Riverview NDP MLA James Allum, is tasked with looking at ways to modernize Manitoba’s liquor and gaming laws and regulations as the two government agencies merge. The committee, which also includes Burrows NDP MLA Melanie Wight, is also tasked with finding ways to streamline regulations to reduce red tape, combine services and build on social responsibility and public safety initiatives. The committee will report back to the government in November, so that legislation can be drafted and debated at the Manitoba Legislature in 2013.
Decter Hirst said government red tape and overregulation played a factor in preventing more full-service patios in Brandon’s downtown and noted that these problems are overcome in Winnipeg but not in Brandon.
"It shouldn’t be that difficult," Decter Hirst said. "It seems like it is so much easier to do in Winnipeg. How difficult does it need to be in Brandon? Maybe the rules are the same and we just don’t have the same resources, or we have a smaller population base, but it became an insurmountable issue here. I really hate the thought that Brandon won’t have an outdoor patio because we can’t figure out how to do it."
Brew pubs also came up at the consultations, in light of a proposal to turn the former Firehall No. 1 on Princess Avenue into a restaurant and brew pub facility now being considered by city administration. It will also require city council’s approval before moving forward.
Renaissance Brandon downtown development specialist Braden Pilling said that patios and a possible brew pub are key components in the city’s downtown core strategy. However, for this strategy to be implemented, there would need to be changes to Manitoba’s liquor laws.
"When we look at financial impacts, we need to look at capacity," Pilling said. "A patio does not provide additional occupancy capacity. So if I have 10 people on my patio, I need to reserve 10 seats inside for them in case it rains."
Pilling added it is not possible for patios to be licensed as a pub under existing law.
Grant Hamilton, a proponent for the Brewtinerie brew pub proposed for Brandon’s old Firehall No. 1, said in his presentation that liquor licences require that anyone with a 10 per cent share or greater in a business must put their names on the application.
"That’s not how a co-op is structured because no one has 10 per cent of the company," Hamilton said.
"So the liquor act as it is written now doesn’t envision that type of business model. Another thing is patios and the fire hall is unique in that it’s the only building that is offset from the street. There is room for a very large patio and that can double the capacity in summer months. It would be important that you not have a patio full, but a restaurant empty because you need to cover for them in case it rains."
While she gave credit to Manitoba Liquor Control Commission staff for providing assistance in its Liquor Marts, Decter Hirst said Brandon should have private wine stores available to its citizens the same way Winnipeggers do.
"For the same reason that private wine stores have done well in Winnipeg, we need that marketing system in Brandon," Decter Hirst said.
"MLCC announced it would be expanding retail options in grocery stores and the rumour is Brandon won’t be getting those options. How come? We have 52,000 people here, 180,000 people outside of town and we do like wine here."
She added there were entrepreneurs in Brandon willing to own a private wine store but they aren’t allowed to under existing law and regulations.
Allum said Brandon is the fourth stop on the fact-finding tour across the province, with other stops including Arborg, Thompson and The Pas.
"I would say in the northern communities, social responsibility and public safety components what we are being educated about are the strongest aspect of what we’ve heard," Allum said. "There has also been some good dialogue on entrepreneurship within the liquor sector."
Winkler and Winnipeg are other locations where hearings will take place.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 25, 2012