Reason to vote Red Redford out of office: your booze bill just keeps growing

As you may or may not know, an Alberta election is underway. As its looking like there's a real solid chance that the Wildrose party can seize the reigns of power away from Alison "Red" Redford and her "Progressive" "Conservative" Party, I felt this would be a good time to bring up some of the disastrous legislation enacted by Red Redford's party.

Today this trip down memory lane takes us to July of 2008, and the day that the Alberta Government brought in minimum drink prices, supposedly to reduce the impact of violence. You can read the disgusting legislation...nowhere! It doesn't even exist! They simply imposed this new rule by Ministerial fiat. Similar price increases for your home supply were also enacted (though later retracted when the outcry was too much even for them).

I've mentioned a few times on this blog before, but the ideal leader in any Westminster Parliamentary system is a little bit of a drunkard. From Sir John A to Sir Winston C to Sir Indian Chief Ralph K, there's a noble tradition of legislators who are on the sauce more often than they are not. While this may do little to give the infamous "sober second thoughts" on a bill the Senate was designed for, it does mean that the Prime Minister or Premier in question knows how to loosen up and have fun once and a while. And I don't just mean "hey look I'm having fun" photo ops like Danielle Smith pretending she's Mister Spock or Red Redford pretending she's Tony Hawk. I mean real rip-roaring fun, like the infamous stories of Ralph Klein when he was the newly minted Mayor of Calgary, or what John A. MacDonald would have been like had he gone to keg parties. (You may be tempted to mention Bill Clinton, but his pot smoking tended to cause a much more depressed and unexciting party...and eventually he'd rape somebody).

Red Redford, like Stelmach before her, isn't much of a drinker. In the discussion of her disgusting drinking and driving law (to be covered in the blog later this month) a commenter pointed out that Red Redford only likes to have one drink when she's out for supper. So now nobody else should too. Which is why we can smell her sober mitts all over this price increase nonsense.

Here is the minimum prices which were setup. Okay, everybody pay attention here.

Item Min. Price
Spirits and liqueurs
$ 2.75
$ 0.35/oz. ($1.75/5 oz. glass)
Draught beer
$ 0.16/oz. ($3.20/20 oz. pint)
Beer, cider or coolers
in cans or bottles
$ 2.75/12 oz. bottle or can
Happy hours
Licensees may reduce the regular menu price of drinks, but drinks can not be sold for less than the regular menu price after 8 p.m. At no time, even during ‘happy hours’, can a drink be sold for less than the new minimum price.
Maximum drink order
The maximum number and size of drinks that may be sold or served to a patron after 1 a.m. is limited to two standard servings per order – one standard serving is one ounce per highball or one bottle or can of beer. Also, a patron can’t have more than two drinks in their possession after 1 a.m.

The official purpose was to combat violence and overserving taking place in bars across Alberta. Unfortunately, even if this was a public policy goal worth pursuing (it isn't), this law is completely ineffective at actually carrying it out. For that, you need to be "a man on the street" as it were, an actual drinker like Ralph out in the bars of this province seeing these problems on a first hand basis.

The primary problem, of course, is that the majority of overserving issues or violence taking place at bars is caused by rig-piggers. That is to say, its the highly paid (often unskilled) workers who have 23 days on and 6 days off from working in Fort McMurray. They finally get down to the city, they have tens of thousands of dollars in their pockets, and are able to go out and drink in fun and exciting new locations (Showgirls Edmonton instead of Showgirls Fort McMurray, Oil City instead of Diggers, etc.). I've talked with such guys who think nothing about spending $750 a night on booze (before they threaten to "punch me in my ugly face" and tell the girl I'm with that "I can pleasure you in ways this faggot could never dream of"). Do these sound like the sort of guys who are bothered by $2.75 bottles of beer? No, they're going to just up their drinking budget from $750 to $1100 and drink on.

Who it does impact is the regular drinking party guy, the kind who ends off going for some drinks after work on Friday or who goes out with his friends to watch the hockey game on Saturday. They sure feel that sting! Having your pints go from $2.75 to $3.75 or your bottles of beer going from $5.75 to $6.75 (more on that in a minute) starts making a big difference. For the average Joe who wants to drink 8 nights a month, increasing each night by $20 sets him back $160 extra over the month. If you aren't a member of the Legislative Assembly working 3 no-work committees, that's a significant amount of coin. And it's out of your pockets directly into the pockets of the hospitality industry.

The killer part about all of this is that in general, nobody was serving drinks that cheap. A few places did, but most did not. Just like minimum wage though, there's a negative influence on a minimum floor like this. If Juggs Pub down the street is charging $2.25 per pint, even if your popular nightclub is a far better bar experience you end up charging $4.75 per pint because people will only accept a certain amount of premium cost for the premium bar experience. Once Juggs has to raise its price by $1 per pint, you have the luxury of doing the same for your establishment.

Which is where Funky Buddha (the old Sherlock Holmes) on Whyte is so ludicrously offensive. In August of 2008 they posted a sign on the front of their premises (which I believe is still there as of this very day) warning customers that because of minimum drink prices they now had to raise their prices from $5.25 to $6.50 for a pint of beer. Yes, that's right, they told customers that there were minimum drink prices, but then just lied their asses off about what that meant (to them, nothing). But in a way, they were right. Ed Stelmach did raise the price they got to charge, even though it was far from the minimum. Ed's little price floor served to give every bar operator in Alberta an excuse to bump up their prices and instantly deflect any criticism from it. Sorry folks, the "Progressive" "Conservative" Party in power just told us that they are raising drink prices. So we've raised drink prices. Nothing we can do, you'll have to go bother the Solicitor General, it's totally out of our hands. Rexall Place has a similar policy, claiming their $8.50 drinks are there to "protect" us from ourselves, to keep "overconsumption" from becoming a problem, to make sure that people can drink without getting drunk.

A drinking Premier could instantly identify this as nonsense. Drinking is supposed to get you drunk. That's why you drink! As I wrote on this blog five years ago:
How often do we have to say this to get the message across: we do not drink beer because we like the taste of decaying barley in our mouths. We drink beer because it gets us drunk. Some beers do have delicious and easy-drinking tastes: Guinness and Sleeman Honey Brown come to mind. Alley Kat Brewery out of Edmonton has a really good citrus-ey drink called "Full Moon Ale" as well. Regardless, take the alcohol out, and keep the taste 100% identical, I wouldn't touch the stuff again in my life.

Maybe Red Redford would keep having a glass of grape juice with her dinner, maybe she wouldn't. I think we can guess which it would be.

So was there really a "problem" with overconsumption before the Stelmach change took effect? Well, no. Pretty much the only spot in the city selling such cheap drinks was the infamous Purple Onion Nightclub just off of Whyte Avenue. Their "$1 test tube shots and $1 highball power hour" from 8pm-9pm was legendary in this city. I've helped guys drink twenty drinks in this timespan. I've probably capped out myself around 14 or 15. It was a wild place to kick off your Friday or Saturday night on Whyte Avenue, and was such a local hotspot that it was typically...half empty. No, really, I can't remember a time ever that the Purple Onion was full for power hour. Typically after 9pm was when it (and all the other bars) finally got busy. Now they had cheaper drinks than anywhere else in the city ($3.25 to $4.50 per bottle of beer depending on your brand), but they still had to fight for a crowd. Why? Because a night at the Purple Onion was a shitty night. The former fag bar-cum-biker bar-cum-goth bar-cum-metal bar-cum-all-Sublime-all-the-time bar attracted a very specific crowd. It was "Gas Pump South" where mostly ugly girls hooked up with native guys with facial scars. It was rough, it was tumble, it was wild, it was Alberta. It also wasn't really my scene. I'd gone there enough, but its not really my kind of place. A lot of people disagreed, which is why it wasn't constantly packed. Instead, the overconsumers were overconsuming at more expensive bars where the girls looked better in their skimpy clothes and a metrosexual haircut was your selling feature.

And now its gone. Closed up. Shut down last year to make way for "The Pint", an overpriced, over-chauchy, overly loud Hudson's clone. That's right Edmonton, the Ed Stelmach government killed your party scene. Like it or not (and I know a few people in the former category) Purple Onion was a different kind of bar, a place where the crazy and wild and slightly abnormal people of this city could gather together and have what for them was somehow a fun time. It had some style, it had some character, and it was populated by characters. And the Alberta Government which Red Redford is trying to bring back killed it.

It also, paradoxically enough, didn't have much for violence. In all the times I've been on or near Purple Onion there have only been a couple minor episodes of violence: mostly a couple tussles outside of the bar. There was once a serious incident I was sort of involved in in front of the bar (it's where I got one of my handguns, as it happens) but it didn't actually involve any PO-patrons. I'm not entirely sure that should count. Now that its The Pint, I've been in it three times and seen a half dozen violent incidents inside and outside the bar, all involving patrons of the bar. This despite the fact that the infamous "Barlink" system is now employed there (it wasn't at the PO).

This leads to the next point, which is that now (the same as in 2008), the actual places responsible for most of the violent incidents and weapons searches and gang attacks are the places which have been charging the most for drinks all along! With the notable exception of O'Byrnes, all of the expensive drinking spots on Whyte Avenue (Lucky 13, The Rack, Hudsons, The Pint, Two Rooms, Squires/Billiards, the old Iron Horse) have been the sources of the violence issues. If the problem was people getting violent after cheap drinks, wouldn't the violence have been at the cheaper places (Strathcona Hotel, Blues on Whyte, Black Dog, Filthy McNastys, Wunderbar)? A similar issue exists on Jasper Avenue, where places like Oil City and The Bank were magnets for violent issues, while more subdued locations like Pub 1905 and Sherlock Holmes are violence-free. Of course, the problem isn't drink prices, it's a two-fold issue that a mere price change won't correct:
  1. Chauch rig-piggers: the biggest issue with all of these places, Oil City being the worst, is the people who show up there: aggressive horny rig piggers who aren't afraid to duke it out with aggressive horny MMA-loving roid freaks over the hot girls who are wearing ridiculously tiny dresses in order to get two giant apes fighting over them. As well established, these are the sort of people who wouldn't be phased by $400 minimum drink prices, so a couple extra bucks a drink isn't going to phase them one bit. Meanwhile, their goal is to get laid, so a little violence will help their case more than hurt it.
  2. Basic economics: As I've written before, most of the bar trouble happens not when the bars are open, but between 2am and 4am. Why? Well,
    Could this be because everybody is kicked out of the bar at the same time and forced to compete for sidewalk space, pizza lineup space, and cab hailing space? Could it also have something to do with the fact that when 1am starts up, bar patrons immediately have to order and slam as many drinks as humanly possible before Big Nanny Government tells the bar to cut off the most unconscious drunk and the most timid sipper all at once? When cold weather and driving issues force bars into relatively small areas, can it be such a shock that setting all the drunks loose en masse creates such undesirable conditions?
    The Alberta Government thought it could pick the "no slamming drinks after 1am" thing and prevent it without preventing the reason it happens. As you may suspect, that won't work. When you get all of the people in (1) above fighting over these resources (and remember, girls in tight clothes who actually want to get screwed rather than turn all Slutwalker prude on you are themselves a limited resource that every guy in the bar is fighting over at the same time) you're going to see violence.
And minimum drink prices aren't stopping THAT either.

So what's to be done about all of this? Are you mad about your favourite water holes becoming more expensive and diminishing your fun while those who are supposed to be influenced by the changes get to have business as usual on their six-figure oil and gas money?

Fortunately, there is a way to punish the "Progressive" "Conservative" Party and Alison "Red" Redford for this (and other) bad pieces of legislation (and even non-legislation) put out by her party since the dawn of the millennium: vote them out.

There is a strong right-wing alternative: Danielle Smith's Wildrose Party of Alberta. With her in office, and the Redford/Stelmach PCs on the outside looking in, Albertans can experience policies appropriate for how they live, not policies that Premier Mom says we should have.