The Drinking Age in Alberta

Well, this is a long post a long time coming. It's time for me to say I told you so. Then I'll make some suggestions about what should happen, and when they don't happen and other undesirable things happen and bad things continue to happen and/or get worse, I shall say I told you so again.

First off, the scheduled "I told you so"s. Way way back in March of '06, I warned that the removal of Ralph Klein from office appeared to spell a serious danger to the sensible hold on the natural urge to place restrictions on liquor consumption. Specifically, you may recall that I wrote:

the next candidate for Premier should be a drinker. Not a louse or anything, but a good hardcore Churchill-style drinker. An outright alcoholic is probably a bad thing, but he definitely should toe the line a little bit. A drinker in the job would show we have a real man for the position: one who isn't afraid to lay in bed drinking a Guinness at 3:30am watching Yes, Minister on DVD after finishing a blog post. A guy who's willing to take all the bullshit stress that comes with such a high position and then slam some Jack Daniels on his downtime to leave him emotionally ready to do the job again the next morning. A Premier of the Province of Alberta who can hang around at a pub working out the issues of the day until eventually stumbling on the brilliant clarity that such sessions typically bring (such as "why don't we make health care entirely 100% private and user pay and make grocery stores nationalized and free" or "if she's gonna wear a tube top and miniskirt to Filthy Freakin' McNasty's then I should be allowed to just walk up and squeeze her ass with no possible legal consequence" or "if we changed the lyrics to the Skynard song just a little, Sweet Home Alberta would be a kick-ass national anthem").

If Oberg/Norris/Morton/Stelmach are all casual drinkers or something, then we may have a problem. I might have to join the campaign to run this province prematurely. I had hoped for a Norris/Morton soft separatist in power first just to let things build up, but as I guzzle my 2nd AGD in 45 minutes and ponder a couple shots of Jagermeister before bedtime, I am left concerned that we might not have time to dilly-dally. The next Premier of Alberta has to be some sort of drunkard. Or we're all in trouble.

Well, now we have Stelmach in charge, Morton leading the cry for bringing the drinking age up to 19, and...well, nobody cares where Oberg and Norris are at the moment, but I can't see them speaking too loudly against it.

The problem is, this is a stupid idea. (The Edmonton Journal is for it, which is a good first sign. Of course, Todd Babiuk is against it, so perhaps the media metric isn't the indicator I should be using here). For one thing, nobody has shown that "18 year olds" are causing serious bar problems that "19 year olds and up" are not. For another, the problem at the bars has to do in general with overcrowding and being unable to keep up with demand, which was a problem of the previous "solution" (see, for example, bringing in heavier restrictions on the number of people permitted in an establishment on Whyte Avenue). More importantly, its a serious restriction on the freedom of what adults can do: bringing in a subclass of adults ("aged 18") who have fewer rights than a subgroup of adults ("19 and up"). It's a logical inconsistency that only Alberta/Manitoba/Quebec have worked around, and its more than just a rotten shame that Alberta is considering leaving an exclusive club of forward thinkers.

In fact, its the subject of directional thinking that seems to strike at the core of this. The U.S., to one of her great detriments, subscribes to this theory that there is a group of adults for whom every right in the Union is bestowed upon save one -- magical fire-water. If you're 18-20 in the USA, you find yourself able to join the army, or vote, or legally be in enforceable contracts, or be unable to be tried as a minor, as able to run for all offices except the Presidency, or enter into sexual relationships with vastly older persons, etc. etc. etc. But to have a beer with your dinner at Red Lobster? No no no, that simply cannot be done.

Meanwhile, in Europe the opposite approach is taken. Germany's drinking age is 18, unless you're only drinking beer or wine, then its 16. Other countries such as France and Austria, follow this message. Italy and Greece have straight up drinking ages of 16. Many countries require you to be 18 to buy alcohol, but you can drink it, even in bars, at 16. (So bootlegging becomes not quite so serious a worry). Furthermore, Wikipedia notes that in European countries the enforcement is lackluster at best and a well-acknowledged joke at least. As the line goes, if in Europe, they will serve you a drink so long as you can get up onto the barstool.

Now here's the rub: all of these good anti-Americans out there like to brag about how Canada is more continental than America, how we are more lax and liberal and European about so many matters. Well, that sounds like great news if your looking for a fag-wedding, but if you want to dare consume alcohol in a public street or stay up until 6am having a drink, you're sure not going to feel like you're in a very liberal continental nation.

There's an easy way to cut down on all this bar violence and worry. And no, it doesn't involve privacy invasion scanning software. What it involves is a little common sense. A more liberal approach, if you can imagine these words being typed by my little fingers. I stress, with no irony whatsoever, that I am stone sober as I write this entry.
  • First off, if the drinking age in Alberta is to go anywhere, it should be going down. 16 sounds like a good end-point, though at this juncture I'm not sure we should be ruling out 14. Maybe 14 to buy at a liquor store or drink in a restaurant, and 16 to go into a bar. We'll see.
  • Secondly, the caps on the number of bars in places like 17th Avenue in Calgary or Whyte Avenue in Edmonton need to go by the wayside as quickly and as easily as possible. Want to know a reason for so much of this bar violence? There are lines to get in. Once in the bar is half-packed and there are lines to get served. When everybody gets kicked out at 2am (more on this later), there are lines to get pizza and donairs. Putting this many people in lines is dangerous enough, let alone when one or two of them are drunk. Unfortunately, as Edmonton's population has exploded (mostly with young men who like to drink), arse-bandits like Michael Phair have gone and put burdoning regulations on the number of establishments that can be opened in places like Whyte. However, since there are already bars there, people flock to them, and the end result is crowds of people wanting places to sit and drink that the City of Edmonton has ruled they don't get.
  • If you're at a bar in a major Albertan metropolis these days, you aren't going to be surrounded by a bunch of white bread Central Alberta hicks. You'll be around a bunch of these East Indians who love to commit violent acts. You'll encounter guys from the local vietnamese gang. A bunch of black guys who think they're the next coming of 50 Cent. In other words, you are now elbow to elbow (see point #2) with some of post-moderninity's least desirable ethnics self-ghettoed losers who are more interested in keeping up their reputation with similar men of their ilk then functioning as members of a sensible society. For the record, Newfies and all those Quebec shitheads who've been polluting the bars lately fall into this category as well.
  • Fourthly, the mandatory 2am closing time has long outlived her usefulness. Anybody ever notice all the violence that takes place at 2am? All the people fighting for cabs and pizzas and women trying to leave with the 17th guy they made eyes at on the dance floor at Bar Wild while the 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, 23rd, and 25th guys are all trying to leave with her as well. Notice anything in common here? Some sort of combining thread? Any economists in the crowd would quickly jump up with the answer, I suspect: allocation of resources. Suddenly, at 2am, thousands upon thousands of drunk partyers are thrown out into the streets. Taxicabs, already hard to get because no new licences have been allowed in the past decade of growth, tend to avoid Whyte because of the violence, reducing further the number of cabs. Therefore these people aren't going anywhere, for there is nowhere but home for them to go and no way to get there. Don't be surprised when you start seeing violence arising from such a circumstance. Now if there was no such thing as last call, what would happen? Well, not all bars would stay open all night (South American and China, for example, have no closing time, and some bars close at set times, and others will remain open all night as long as a certain number of clientele are still on the premises), but a few would. Those who want to still drink at 4am might go there. Others might just want to head home. More importantly, any bar that closes at 2am won't be responsible for letting out the entire bar population at the same time. (For those who say that they would never do this, BPs on Whyte and often The Next Act Pub will close at midnight or 1am, even on weeknights...clearly bars will make up their own minds).
  • To expand on the point above, its time that the City of Edmonton be serious about entering the 24-hour society. Whyte Avenue busses should be running all night. If taxicabs on Whyte are so scarce, maybe the city should license another 50-150 cars that are permitted only to operate between midnight and 4am and/or only permitted to pick-up passengers between Whitemud and Saskatchewan Drive, 114th street to 99th.
  • Finally, its time too that the province and the city both think about relaxing some of the 1920s-era restrictions on booze. Do what New Orleans does: maybe set up a zone from 99th street to 109th street, 81st Avenue to 83rd Avenue where open alcohol in non-glass containers is legal. Have it run from the start of May Long Weekend until the end of Labour Day Weekend, and close off selected side-streets (Whyte cannot be closed off, at least until the City smartens up and puts a railway overpass at University (76th) Avenue to allow east-west throughflow). Encourage drinking and partying on Whyte Avenue. If this is unpalatable to the city, pick another area of town that can be closed off in this fashion [downtown, perhaps...no late night traffic there! -ed] and licence the hell out of that strip for bar traffic. Make it the new late-night party destination. [seriously, how about the area around Northlands, so the city isn't worried about the dead zone surrounding our hockey stadium? -ed] For Pete's sake, New Orleans partiers were delighted to hear that we had an active bar strip in Edmonton with an 18-year old drinking age. Market this. Use this. Maybe we could lose the reputation of a boring city with nothing to do if the powers-that-be weren't too busy concentrating on ending any fun activity in this city not related to shoving things up your ass.

Incidently, AADAC (not the most unbiased source when it comes to controlling drug and alcohol use) put out a recent paper arguing against raising the drinking age.

I think my final point here has to be: alcohol may be the cause of all life's problems, pace Homer Simpson, but it can also be the solution if the city gets its act in gear.