John Streicker, minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation, said reduced hours for off-sale liquor establishments are likely a part of Liquor Act reforms due out in April, 2021.
“We have been working to decrease those hours; in fact, we wrote to all of the licensees to suggest that we were heading in that direction and got their feedback on that,” he said.
“We agree that there is a concern about offsales hours, and we will use the regulations through the new act to reduce those hours as reinforced by the Putting People First report.”
Streicker said licensees were consulted about the changes. The discussion around changing the Act also included the RCMP, Health and Social Services and the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Streicker made the comments on Oct. 21 in the legislature after NDP MLA Liz Hanson raised concerns about increased hospitalizations due to alcohol consumption that correlate with an extension in the hours alcohol can be sold in the territory.
The Liquor Act was changed in August 2016 and allowed liquor establishments and off-sales to open continuously from 9 a.m. until 2 a.m., a full 17 hours. The previous version of the law only allowed sellers to be operating for 14 continuous hours between those two times.
Stats from the Canadian Institute for Health Information indicate that Whitehorse reported 300 “hospitalizations entirely caused by alcohol” in 2017-18 year, a 19 per cent increase over the 246 incidents reported in 2016-17.
Last year there were 296 cases, representing a 10 per cent increase over 2016. Both years are well above the Canadian average.
The recently released Putting People First healthcare reform report suggested the changes to the Liquor Act and the increase in hospitalizations may be linked.
The report, which was endorsed by the government, recommends establishing a “minimum pricing policy” on alcohol, reducing hours of sale, restricting advertising and requiring “evidence-based server training.”
“The Putting People First report shows evidence that longer hours of alcohol sales significantly increased the amount of alcohol consumed and the rates of alcohol-related harms,” Hanson said.
“I mean, I’m not the temperance lady, but I am saying that we have a responsibility and we have to make a link between what our actions are and what our words are. So we can say the nice words in the legislation and in press releases, but we need to be prepared to deal with the fact we’ve got three times as many kids aged 10 to 14 (sic) in hospital because of alcohol,” she said, in reference to the fact that hospitalizations for patients in the 10 to 24 age range are triple that of the Canadian average.
It was a Yukon Party government that made the changes to the Liquor Act that came into effect in 2016.
New party leader Currie Dixon said he found the stats “concerning” but said the party doesn’t have a strong position on the hours for off-sales.
“I think all of the information provided in the health report should be thoughtfully considered. There are other impacts that come from reducing hours, there’s impacts on the businesses as well and I think that’s important. We will think about those and we’ll develop a policy response to that,” he said.
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: This article was corrected Nov. 2 to indicate that statistics from the Canadian Institute for Health Information multiply the number of hospitalizations in order to compare jurisdictions and inaccurate numbers were quoted in the legislature. The hospital admissions were 300 in 2017-18 year and in 2016-17 the actual hospitalizations were 246. A quote from Liz Hanson has also been clarified. The Yukon News regrets the error.