Manitoba is reforming laws that require alcohol to be served with a side of food, entertainment or lodging.
Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen introduced the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Amendment Act (Bill 38) on Tuesday, which would eliminate liquor licence categories and allow businesses that serve liquor to operate with fewer regulations.
"This is just reducing the number of licences and making it a bit easier for different businesses to work," Goertzen said. "Instead of trying to find a licence to fit into the business model, we’re looking at the business model and building licences around it."
Currently, the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority has six service licensing categories and 14 sub-categories, including beverage rooms, entertainment facilities, dining rooms and unique hospitality venues.
Each licence has a different set of rules that businesses must follow to be allowed to serve liquor. For example, a beverage room licence requires the operator to offer a minimum number of hotel rooms; dining room licences are only issued to businesses that have a commercial kitchen.
"This is just reducing the number of licences and making it a bit easier for different businesses to work." – Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen
Goertzen said called that challenging for businesses.
The LGCA has been forced to find "workarounds" to accommodate businesses that don’t fall under current legislation, including seasonal patios and wine bars, he said.
The proposed law would establish a variety of service licences through regulation, Goertzen said. The bill would allow any business with a liquor service licence to sell booze for take-out or delivery with food.
"Many licences have requirements related to offering entertainment, unique hospitality experiences or food service, none of which relate to the safe and responsible service of liquor," he said.
"Under the (bill) the number of categories would be reduced to provide for a more flexible framework that would allow for new business models to become licensed."
While proposed regulatory changes have yet to be released by the government, LGCA chief executive officer Kristianne Dechant said any new rules will be "tied to responsible sale, service and consumption of liquor."
"What that will look like, likely, is we’ll continue to have a food–service requirement but we won’t have the same requirements for commercial kitchens and those same buildouts that we have right now." – LGCA chief executive officer Kristianne Dechant
"What that will look like, likely, is we’ll continue to have a food-service requirement but we won’t have the same requirements for commercial kitchens and those same buildouts that we have right now," Dechant said.
"We know that serving food when you serve alcohol is a responsible thing, so we will still have some type of food requirement in all types of licences," she continued.
Dechant said she does not expect a rush of businesses to apply for licences if the bill becomes law.
Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association chief executive officer Shaun Jeffrey described the changes as a positive step for the many businesses that adapted operating models throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pop-up establishments have had the most significant challenges in dealing with licensing, Jeffrey said, arguing if a business can serve liquor in a safe manner, it should be permitted to do so.
"We’re always changing and adapting and pivoting — that’s what’s kept us open during 24 months of pandemic," Jeffrey said. "We’ve had to take what we’ve learned and how we’ve had to change, and the government has to change with us."
"The government recognizes the need to modernize how liquor is sold and design it in a way that continues to protect revenues for health care and education and other government expenditures, and is looking at the way other provinces have been able to successfully do this." – Retail Council of Canada spokesman John Graham
Retail Council of Canada spokesman John Graham said grocery and convenience store operators want flexibility when it comes to selling liquor to their customers.
A recent poll conducted by the council found seven in 10 Manitobans would like the option of buying alcohol at their local grocery store, Graham said.
"The government recognizes the need to modernize how liquor is sold and design it in a way that continues to protect revenues for health care and education and other government expenditures, and is looking at the way other provinces have been able to successfully do this," he said. "They’re being cautious, but at the same time, we see increasing numbers of Manitobans frustrated with the current rules."
The Tories introduced Bill 40 in the last legislative session. It would have allowed Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries to sign retail agreements with private retailers in urban areas. Last October, as interim premier, Goertzen withdrew the bill, along with four others.
In a statement to the Free Press, Scott Fielding, minister responsible for MLL, did not rule out the possibility of expanding retail liquor sales.
"The Manitoba government is committed to enhancing customer convenience and reducing red tape for organizations involved in the sale of liquor," Fielding wrote in an email late Tuesday.
"Our government will continue to consult with Manitobans and stakeholders to learn more about potential enhancements."
— with files from Maggie Macintosh
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.