May 30, 2014 5:45 pm
Updated: May 30, 2014 5:48 pm

Why the Ontario election has left Toronto liquor licences in limbo

Toronto restaurants and bars looking to add liquor sales are in a state of limbo thanks to new liquor licencing rules and, in a strange twist, the provincial election.

“We [have to] get a letter of support from our MPP,” spa owner Jessica Leeder said.

New requirements approved by Toronto city council, state a liquor licence applicant must complete a “Safer Bars” training course provided by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and must produce a signed letter from their local Member of Provincial Parliament.

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Without the letter of support, the city will automatically oppose a liquor licence application, triggering a lengthy hearing.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me and furthermore there’s no process in place, historically, for MPPs to do this,” she said. “This reads to me like the city throwing a tantrum and saying that’s not good enough for us.”

Leeder has been trying to get a liquor license for The Ten Spot spa franchise she owns, but the new requirements have created a bureaucratic nightmare. She wants to be able to serve a maximum of two drinks, no later than 9:00p.m to her customers.

“Nothing crazy and rowdy just an extra level of pleasure while you’re being pampered,” Leeder said.

The new requirements were a complete surprise to some MPPs.

“This was completely foreign to me,” Prue said. “I had no idea what they were doing [or] why they were doing it.”

Applicants are now stuck in limbo. MPP’s are unable to sign any official paperwork during a provincial election campaign. Outside of a campaign, MPPs are wary of signing any document, for someone they don’t know personally.

“It’s literally impossible to accomplish what is being asked in the middle of an election,” Prue said. “We cannot sign forms promising anyone any legal requirement during an election.”

“I can’t sign the form, no one can sign the form.”

The complicated new requirements are just the latest salvo in an ongoing war between Toronto and Ontario’s Alcohol and Gaming Commission.

Toronto politicians believe the AGCO should enforce “conditions” on liquor licence holders that may stipulate hours of operation, noise restrictions and other agreements meant to satisfy the communities in which they operate.

“A couple of months ago without any warning the province said ‘were going to ignore all those agreements you’ve come up with and we’re not going to enforce any new agreements,'” Councillor Gord Perks said.

“Nobody had any idea. The alcohol and gaming commission, the provincial agency that gives out these licences, didn’t inform neighbourhoods, didn’t inform restaurants, didn’t inform MPPs.”

The AGCO maintains those are municipal bylaw issues, and the commission is focused on regulating liquor sales as they relate to age, hours and safety of a venue. City councillors believe without the risk of losing a liquor licence, bars and clubs have little reason to follow the agreed-upon conditions.

“Bylaws don’t work because bars make so much money, they can just pay the little fine. The only way you can get them to behave is if you attach those conditions to their liquor licence, because that’s where they make their money,” Councillor Gord Perks said. “If the city of Toronto had control over issuance of liquor licences we could sort all of this out, but we have a blended jurisdiction.”

That’s where MPPs come in. City council passed the new rules with little opposition in April, hoping to bring in some level of provincial accountability. Yet MPPs remain unclear as to their role, and unable to act, creating uncertainty for entrepreneurs who are looking to expand their offerings.

“He’s being asked to vouch for me, and I’m an upstanding business person, but he doesn’t know me from the next guy on the street,” Leeder said.

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