By Trevor Busch
Westwind Weekly News
While teetotalers may not rejoice, the Village of Stirling’s survey regarding the possibility of liquor licensing has posted a slim majority in favour of loosening restrictions in the historically-dry community.
Bill 2 (the Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Amendment Act) received first reading in the Alberta legislature on Feb. 26. The bill would amend the AGLC Act to rescind Sec. 54 that currently prohibits liquor licensing in certain areas of Warner and Cardston counties, and could impact other communities like Cardston, Magrath and Raymond.
The survey which closed on May 19 saw 335 responses. Support for increased licensing as a positive impact for local business saw almost 46 per cent opposed, while 5.3 per cent were indifferent. Those in support of increased licensing only if it supports local business took in 16.7 per cent, while almost 32 per cent were in favour of increased licensing whether it supported local business or not.
“The survey results indicate a pretty even split in Stirling with roughly 46 per cent of residents opposed to increased liquor licensing and about 54 per cent either supportive or indifferent,” said Village of Stirling Mayor Trevor Lewington commenting on the results in his most recent Mayor’s Message. “It is not clear when the legislation might be passed by the Legislative Assembly, but council thought it was important to have a better understanding of the community’s perspective on this issue.”
Some 49.5 per cent of respondents believe increased access to alcohol would negatively impact the municipality’s vision for the community, while 25 per cent believe it would make a positive impact, and another 25 per cent were indifferent.
Alcohol availability in the community has historically been been limited to special event licenses at various facilities or private functions, and roughly 51 per cent supported no changes to the status quo in this area, while almost 49 per cent believed there should be opportunities for additional alcohol licenses in the community if provincial laws are amended.
Asked to gauge how important this issue is to individual residents, almost 49 per cent responded it should be key priority discussion, while 33.1 per cent believe it is worthy of further debate. Only 17.9 per cent suggested the issue was of little importance.
Council recently reviewed the results of the survey conducted to gain feedback regarding the potential impact of Bill 2.
“If passed, the bill would amend the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act to remove a legacy section of the legislation that dates back to the era of prohibition in Alberta,” continued Lewington. “The removal of that section in the law would open up the possibility of permanent liquor licenses in communities like Stirling where they are currently banned.”
The legislation requires any licensing application forwarded by the AGLC to a municipality for consideration must be responded to within 90 days.
“The change in the legislation still provides a way for a municipal council to either support or object to a new license request for the first application, but that decision becomes a precedent for all future applications,” said Lewington.
In a previous interview with the News, Lewington had indicated that even if the amended legislation is passed, restrictive covenants on property titles related to the sale of liquor in the village that date back to around 1901 could be an additional stumbling block for prospective business operators. In 2020, the municipality has been investigating potential issues or solutions for this problem should the legislation pass.
The survey results also included many statements from participants both for and against enhanced liquor licensing in the community. A summary of the survey results including comments can be reviewed on the village website at stirling.ca/archives/7646
The village anticipates the changes to the legislation could come into effect by next year.
“We do not expect this amendment to proceed through the legislative approval process until 2021 given the current reduction of government activities due to COVID-19,” reads a statement on the village website.
The village indicated there will be additional opportunities for community consultation on the issue before any final decisions are made. Additional comments can be submitted to the municipality via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.