Bill 80 ‘entertainment districts’ section raises interest and questions in Calgary

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A section in the province's Red Tape Reduction Act that would allow for municipalities to designate areas with eased alcohol consumption rules has Calgary business improvement areas asking questions while also piquing interest. Adam MacVicar reports. – Nov 5, 2021

Publicly enjoying a beer or a glass of wine in a favourite city neighbourhood may be a reality sooner rather than later after the province tabled a bill aimed at reducing bureaucratic red tape.

Bill 80, the Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act, 2021 (No. 2), would amend nine pieces of current legislation that regulate industries in Alberta like insurance, the energy sector, justice, post-secondary institutions and cannabis.

The bill includes a section that would allow municipalities to create ‘entertainment districts,’ a designation that makes way for adults to drink alcohol in public outside of bars and restaurants in those zones.

Read more: Alberta government introduces bill to exit online cannabis sales, leave it to retailers

“This will ultimately come down to municipalities that choose to create an entertainment district within their municipality and it will be at their discretion,” Alberta finance minister Travis Toews said Thursday. “It’s really about getting government out of the way and enabling an activity that couldn’t take place before.”

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According to the province, the goal is to provide opportunities to boost local business and tourism.

Annie MacInnis, who heads up the Kensington Business Improvement Area had her interest piqued by the news of the legislation, but still has several questions about the details.

“When I first heard about it, I thought I need to know more about this,” MacInnis said. “There’s not a lot of information as to what that would look like.  Certainly open to having a conversation about that.”

If the bill passes, MacInnis hopes Calgary’s business improvement areas would be at the table with city council to provide feedback and ask questions about the impacts and benefits to those areas.

In Kensington, MacInnis pointed to a plaza in the heart of the neighbourhood which is used for festivals and live entertainment as a potential location for open alcohol consumption.

“Cities in Europe have much more relaxed laws when it comes to alcohol consumption than we do, for example, here in Calgary,” MacInnis said. “We’re a grown up city now and we should have grown up alcohol laws.”

Read more: Drinking in Calgary parks: pilot program a success so far with only 1 complaint

This summer, the City of Calgary piloted allowing alcohol consumption at select city parks by making online reservations at picnic tables.

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Although there were concerns over-consumption would be an issue amid a rising problem of alcoholism in the city, administration said in its most recent update that the pilot project had been a success.

According to Ward 9 city councillor Gian-Carlo Carra, who brought forward the initial notice of motion, the pilot project was a success with minimal complaints, and a report from administration on next steps is expected soon.

Carra said the proposed expanded powers that could be granted to Alberta municipalities has the potential to work well in Calgary.

“I think it dovetails very nicely with this pilot work that we’ve done,” Carra said. “I look forward to having the conversation with council and our new mayor about how we might make permanent or expand the opportunity to do this.”

During an interview with 770 CHQR Global News Radio Friday, Calgary’s mayor said the former council did struggle to pass the bylaw overseeing the alcohol in parks pilot project.

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In terms of allowing more opportunities for public alcohol consumption, Jyoti Gondek said council would need to review what could be deemed an entertainment district.

“I think as a society, we need to recognize that if you have a law in place that prohibits public drunkenness, then you’ve got a system by which you can regulate people’s behavior,” Gondek said. “So I think we’re overthinking this.”

For entertainment districts to move forward, Bill 80 would still need to be passed in the legislature and receive royal assent before city council could make any decisions on the matter locally.

–with files from Global News’ Adam Toy and The Canadian Press

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