May 15, 2013 2:40 pm
Updated: May 16, 2013 12:16 pm

Drink at the spa as Manitoba loosens liquor laws

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WINNIPEG — Raising a glass will soon be allowed in a lot more places in Manitoba.

The province announced Wednesday it is in the process of updating and relaxing its liquor laws.

Liquor service will now be allowed in customer service environments such as hair salons and spas.

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Restaurants will no longer have to report their sales-to-liquor ratio, and will require only one liquor licence, meaning the difference between “restaurant” and “lounge” will be blurred and establishments may not have to operate them separately.

The province also raised the possibility of 24-hour liquor service during special events, such as the Grey Cup, in designated areas such as the Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District, or SHED, being developed downtown near MTS Centre. Officials stressed open liquor in public would still not be allowed.

The changes would take effect later this year.

“Merging liquor and lotteries to save taxpayers money on administration also gives us the opportunity to modernize the rules to provide more choice for consumers and reduce red tape for the hospitality industry,” Manitoba cabinet minister Dave Chomiak is quoted in a news release.  “By working with industry leaders, we have found common-sense ways to create exciting new entertainment opportunities for Manitobans, while maintaining a balance that ensures safety and social responsibility.”

Highlights would include:
* streamlining of the number of liquor licenses to three (sales, manufacturing and service) from 12 and moving terms and conditions of licences into regulation.
* removing barriers licencing small live entertainment venues including the requirement that they have a capacity of 200 persons or larger;
* removing the outdated rule that prohibits a performance by a DJ from being considered live entertainment;
* allowing for liquor service in customer service environments such as hair salons and spas;
* providing more flexibility in the setting of liquor licence terms and conditions including the ability to establish a special category of liquor licence for distinct area such as the downtown Sports Hospitality Entertainment District;
* eliminating reporting requirements for restaurants on their sales of food compared to liquor;
* ensuring public notices for liquor applications would be more clear and visible, available online and in plain language;
* bringing liquor and gaming regulatory services under one roof, creating integrated licensing, inspection and compliance services;
­ for business, creating a single inspection process and single application to serve liquor and licence video lottery terminals; and
­ for families and community groups, creating a single online application for liquor and raffles when hosting Manitoba socials.

“We applaud this major milestone of establishing an independent authority to regulate liquor and gaming in Manitoba,” Scott Jocelyn, executive director of the Manitoba Food and Restaurant Association is quoted in the province’s news release.  “We are looking forward to assisting further in the modernization of our laws to help business and enhance consumer choice in a responsible way.”

“Manitoba hotels have been the cornerstones of the liquor and gaming components of the provincial hospitality industry from the very beginning of legislative regulation relating to the industry,”  Jim Baker, president and CEO, Manitoba Hotel Association is quoted in the province’s news release.  “We are supportive of this significant step to continue to modernize the laws and look forward to playing a significant role in the development of these reforms.”

But the province says it will also ramp up its enforcement of liquor laws and crack down on abuse of alcohol:

* mandating in law that two per cent of net revenue of Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries is allocated to responsible gaming and consumption initiatives including dedicated funding to help Manitoba families coping with addictions;
* introducing swifter penalties for act violations involving underage drinking;
* introducing new measures to crackdown on premises that cause a repeat disturbance to communities (‘party houses’);
* strengthening tools to fight bootlegging including updating the offence of transporting liquor, providing for ‘telewarrants’ (obtaining warrants by telephone) and providing for seizure of liquor found in unlawful places;
* allowing for enforcement against products used in the manufacture of illegal alcoholic substances such as ‘superjuice’;
* ensuring risk-based inspections will use an education and collaborative approach while targeting repeat offenders;
* creating better and more opportunities for citizen and municipal input into the liquor licensing process including the recreation of a dispute resolution mechanism; and
* modernizing advertising standards, implementing nationally accepted standards and requiring social responsibility messaging.

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