Toronto Star

Takeout booze from restaurant­s, bars is here to stay

Move is biggest change to liquor laws since end of Prohibitio­n in 1927

- ROBERT BENZIE

Booze to go is officially here to stay in Ontario.

As first reported by the Star on Oct. 7, the Progressiv­e Conservati­ve government is making permanent a temporary pandemic measure allowing restaurant­s and bars to sell takeout beer, wine and spirits.

Attorney General Doug Downey said Wednesday the longantici­pated move is designed to help businesses that have been struggling in the midst of the pandemic.

“Ontario’s vibrant hospitalit­y sector and its workers have been hard hit by COVID-19 in every community across our province,” said Downey.

“We’re building on the actions we took early in the pandemic to support local restaurant­s, bars and other businesses by providing permanent help to workers and small businesses as they face these ongoing challenges,” he said.

It is effectivel­y the most sweeping liberaliza­tion of Ontario’s liquor laws since Prohibitio­n ended in 1927.

Downey said the government is removing restrictio­ns so alcohol can be delivered in food boxes and meal kits and allowing distillers, wineries, cider makers and brewers to deliver their own products and charge fees to do so.

Restaurant­s and bars will also be able to offer mixed cocktails and growlers of beer as part of takeout and delivery orders. As well, wineries and distillers will be allowed to sell Ontario-made and grown wines and locally made spirits at farmers’ markets.

A Campaign Research poll conducted for the Star in June found about three-quarters of Ontarians — 73 per cent — favour permitting restaurant­s and bars to offer alcohol to go.

Only 16 per cent opposed the off-licence sales, which have been in effect since March 26 after a suggestion to Premier Doug Ford by Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, while 12 per cent had no opinion.

Downey said docked commercial boats that have liquor licences would be allowed to serve booze to go. But checking identifica­tion, Smart Serve training and not serving intoxicate­d people will be mandatory.

There will be reduced minimum pricing of spirits consumed in restaurant­s and bars to match the lower pricing that took effect for takeout orders in March.

The government is making it easier for the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), which oversees liquor sales, to extend the length of time for temporary patio extensions. Tom Mungham, the AGCO’s chief executive and registrar, said the regulator is trying to help businesses and consumers “while protecting the public interest.”

“The AGCO’s focus on delivering strong and effective regulatory services includes looking for every opportunit­y to reduce burden, simplify rules and offer greater flexibilit­y,” Mungham said.

In October, associate minister of small business Prabmeet Sarkaria announced the Main Street Recovery Act to legislate a reduction in red tape to boost the hospitalit­y sector.

Since the rules were loosened, thousands of businesses have embraced the European style of selling directly to the public.

Because the LCBO controls all wine and spirits distributi­on, the provincial treasury may not ake a hit.

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