WINNIPEG — Here’s to you, 1956.
That was the last year the province’s liquor laws got a major revision, and effective April 1, they will change again.
After about three years of discussions and consultations, how Manitobans buy and consume alcohol in the province’s restaurants, lounges and nightclubs will be updated to how the world operates in 2014.
“The last time the Liquor Act was changed was in 1956,” Dave Chomiak, the minister responsible for the Liquor and Gaming Authority of Manitoba, said Friday. “That was before colour TV.”
What will change for consumers is that there will be a lot fewer restrictions — not as many as restaurant industry wanted, but they’re still happy — for licensed operations. There will also be more live-music venues added under the new rules.
Manitobans will see a test run of that during the final week of March when the Juno Awards come to Winnipeg. From March 24 to 30, alcohol-serving hours can be extended and special permits will be offered to restaurants that wish to operate as live music venues after 8 p.m. and hotel beverage rooms that want to open up live shows to minors.
What will change for the industry is a lot less red tape and duplication of government licensing and inspections, some which were implemented Jan. 1.
Driving these changes is the creation of the Liquor and Gaming Authority of Manitoba (LGA). It brings regulatory oversight for liquor and gambling under one roof and creates a single inspection process and single application to serve liquor and licence video lottery terminals.
“The new regulations go a long way to putting everyone on equal footing,” said Jim Baker, president and chief executive officer of the Manitoba Hotel Association.
For organizers of socials, there will be a single online application for liquor and raffle permits and the outdated bottle limits and quotas will be eliminated.
“You’re not going to have to pretend to raffle off perfume bottles,” Chomiak said. “People were trying to get around obscure rules that were developed in the 1930s and ’40s that we still don’t understand.”
The province also said the revised rules also emphasize responsible drinking and public safety. It includes giving police new powers to seize alcohol from chronic party houses and boot gang members out of bars and restaurants despite no crimes being committed.
“Don’t worry. Your Christmas parties will not be shut down because they are rowdy,” LGA chief administrative officer Elizabeth Stephenson said. “It’s in dealing with the chronic places that we really want to get to the heart of and ensure safety and security in people’s neighbourhoods.”
Scott Jocelyn, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Food Services Association, said the changes are welcome by the industry, but more can still be done in a fast-changing and competitive environment.
“For an operator, there is nothing more frustrating than not being able to meet a simple request from a customer because outdated legislation doesn’t allow it,” Jocelyn said.
Jocelyn and Restaurants Canada spokesman Dwayne Marling said their discussions with the province will continue to further eliminate restrictive regulations, such as how much space a smaller restaurant must set aside for food service only.
“To me, it’s the confusion to the customer,” Jocelyn said. “It’s you going out and not understanding why you can’t sit on that side and not have to order any food. For us, to have to explain that, it’s kind of like you walking into my house and not being treated like they want you want to treated.”
Marling said the new rules also recognize that bar hours can be extended not only for a Manitoba event, like the Junos, but other events of significance no matter where they’re taking place, such as last month’s Olympic men’s hockey gold-medal game.
“The gold-medal game worked,” Marling said. “Ninety-four places opened. No problems. It worked and it worked well. There were no issues. It proved that we are indeed as mature a society we think we are.”
Stephenson said another new aspect is that salons, spas and art galleries will also be able to serve alcohol, in keeping with what provinces like Ontario and Saskatchewan already allow.
“We don’t expect a salon to run to run a full kitchen, but they will be required to have snacks available — granola bars, cheese and crackers, nuts,” she said.
» Winnipeg Free Press