Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Liquor Act gets with the times

Industry toasts modern rules set for April 1

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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."

Consumers will notice a lot fewer restrictions -- not as many as the restaurant industry wanted, but they're still happy -- on licensed operations. There will also be more live-music venues under the new rules.

'The last time the Liquor Act was changed was in 1956. That was before colour TV'

-- Dave Chomiak, the minister responsible for the Liquor and Gaming Authority of Manitoba

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.

The industry will deal with a lot less red tape and duplication of government licensing and inspections, some of 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 put everyone on an equal footing," Jim Baker, president and chief executive officer of the Manitoba Hotel Association, said.

For organizers of socials, there will be a single online application for liquor and raffle permits and outdated bottle limits and quotas will be eliminated.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. Police get new powers to seize alcohol from chronic party houses and boot gang members out of bars and restaurants even when no crime was 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 peoples' neighbourhoods."

Scott Jocelyn, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Food Services Association, said the industry welcomes the changes but more can 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 focus on continuing to eliminate restrictions, such as how much space a smaller restaurant must set aside for just food service.

"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."

Marling said the new rules also recognize bar hours can be extended not only for a Manitoba event, such as the Junos, but other events of significance no matter where they're taking place, such as the Sochi Olympic men's gold-medal hockey game.

"The gold-medal game worked," Marling said. "Ninety-four places opened (with) no problems. It proved that we are indeed as mature a society we think we are."

Salons, spas and art galleries will be able to serve alcohol, something Ontario and Saskatchewan already allow.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2014 A3

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