Alcohol consumption may be election issue
There’s been something missing thus far in the run-up to October’s municipal election, Dr. Robert Strang says — alcohol.
Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer has been quite outspoken about the province’s problems with binge drinking, its common pairing with violence in Halifax’s downtown and its link to cases coming into the emergency room on weekend nights.
Strang spoke to The Chronicle Herald in an unofficial capacity Wednesday, saying that while his opinion comes from much of his professional study, he wasn’t speaking on behalf of the province.
Instead, Strang focused on the Halifax mayoral candidates. He called on them to develop a municipal alcohol policy that should include a review of licensed hours, the density of bars and alcohol sponsorship tied to city infrastructure and events.
“It really comes down to what kind of community do we want HRM to be and ... what role alcohol should be playing in that,” he said. “If you talk to police and others, the Halifax downtown environment, certainly on weekends and holidays, it’s fairly chaotic.
“And we’re spending a huge amount of tax dollars dealing with that.”
Regional council uncorked a similar debate last winter when it awarded Molson Coors the naming rights to the events plaza next to the skating oval on the Halifax Commons, catching criticism for attaching the beer giant’s logo to a piece of municipal infrastructure.
That public scrutiny prompted city hall to approve a policy governing future sponsorship deals, which includes a clause about alcohol advertising. But that clause offers no guidelines, saying only that each contract would be considered on its own merits.
Strang said that’s not good enough.
“Right now there’s no big comprehensive plan,” he said. “We’re making these one-off decisions with no visible community input.”
The province currently licenses establishments that sell liquor, which are allowed to stay open until 2 a.m., or 3:30 a.m. if they hold a cabaret license. But city bylaws can also regulate hours of operation.
Zoning can also be used to regulate licensed bars, something council used in October 2010, when it changed the rules on Quinpool Road to allow lounges at certain times.
Strang said the new council should also review the density of bars allowed in certain areas.
“There’s a big difference between a downtown nightclub and a small neighbourhood pub,” Strang said. “So (with) allowing restaurants greater capacity to serve alcohol out on their sidewalks, we have to be reasonable, and we probably want to promote more of that and less of the establishments whose sole business purpose is to sell large volumes of alcohol.”
Mayoral candidate Tom Martin said he favours increasing the police presence downtown. The former homicide detective said he’s open to talking about a municipal alcohol policy, but couldn’t yet say whether he would support one. He plans to meet with a group of citizens lobbying about such a policy shortly.
“You can go from many extremes ... from prohibition to wide-open drinking,” Martin said. “I don’t know where (this group is) on that scale. So, I’d have to know what they’re asking before I can take a stand.”
Mike Savage said he would like Halifax to craft an alcohol policy, but he had limited details about what his might include. He could not say whether he would look at changing bar hours or their density but did say he’s “not opposed” to alcohol sponsorship.
“When the chief of police points out how often alcohol is involved in crime, ... then I think we have to have a look and try to figure out why,” Savage said. “I don’t think anybody knows exactly what should be involved in (the policy), but that’s why I think we need to do an evaluation.”