Saskatchewan opposition blocks bill to allow drinking in parks

Saskatchewan’s opposition blocked a government bill that would allow residents to enjoy a beer or glass of wine in city parks, despite announcing support for such a change last summer.

NDP Deputy Leader Nicole Sarauer says people in Saskatchewan have addiction problems and more consultation is needed.

“We’re in an addiction crisis in Saskatchewan and we need to maintain that in light of this dialogue that we’re having,” Sarauer said Monday as the NDP announced it would not support the bill.

One harm reduction advocate said parks can serve as safe places to drink if properly regulated, and linking such a proposal to alcoholism perpetuates stigma against people with use disorders.

“Suggesting someone is going to get (deeper) into alcohol by allowing drinking more liberally in a park just tells us how much we don’t know about substance use disorder,” said Marie Agiortis with Moms Stop The Damage in Saskatoon.

Agiortis said bars and beer gardens at summer festivals already act as safe places to consume alcohol.

“It needs to be well regulated and well enforced if they’re going to allow it, and that’s where we need to focus,” he said.

“And that’s also part of the stigma: (people) think we’re all running around and shaking champagne bottles, spraying them and offering vodka to kids.”

Minister Jim Reiter, head of the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, said the bill would have allowed municipalities to work with the authority to set their own rules on public drinking.

That would include ensuring there are restrooms and security.

“There are people who are in apartments or condos that don’t have easy access to their own green space. Those of us who have a backyard want to have a barbecue and have a beer or a glass of wine. Not everyone gets that opportunity,” Reiter said Monday. “So the discussion was more about those people.”

He said he was disappointed the bill did not pass unanimously, but plans to reintroduce it in the fall.

City councilors from Regina and Saskatoon said they would have liked to see the bill pass.

“I don’t like to drag things out if we’re going to move on. If it were up to me, we’d have it all figured out and ready for summer.” Regina Coun. Andrew Stevens said on Tuesday.

He said he doesn’t see the harm in breaking a beer at a picnic and previously brought a bottle of wine to the park with his wife to celebrate an anniversary.

He doesn’t think it would encourage rowdy behavior.

“Being drunk in public is still a crime. So having a beer is very different than having a kegger,” she said.

“Maybe we’re worried about change, but let’s realize that if you leave North America, you’re going to find a place where this is just the norm.”

Drinking in parks is common in European cities like Berlin and London.

Count Cynthia Block of Saskatoon said Tuesday that she envisioned a European-type setting for her city: “a baguette with a glass of wine kind of vibe.”

He tabled a motion last December that led the Saskatchewan Party government to propose the change.

Block said that without the bill’s passage, municipalities can’t even have the discussion about having a drink in public.

He said he would have at least liked the opportunity to explore it as a pilot project in Saskatoon, similar to those in Calgary and Edmonton, where people can reserve a picnic table for a drink, “especially based on the last two years.” where everyone has been stuck indoors or really wanting to have opportunities to do things outdoors, because it is an environment where people feel safer.”

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