The argument over whether a lower legal drinking age is the way to go is heating up across the province, with those in Prince Albert left with mixed feelings.
As the provincial government mulls over the issue, local counsellor Andrew Bear said that he’d like to see the drinking age raised, if anything.
“It’s already too low,” he said of the current legal drinking age of 19. “There are too many people getting into trouble over drinking.
“Individuals don’t even have a chance to shape their lives, or to do anything positive in life because alcohol takes over, and their dreams and everything are shot downhill.”
Although he recognizes that youth will drink regardless of what the laws dictate, Bear said that this is no reason to reshape laws to adhere to illegal activity.
“The more that we allow it and the more that we say, ‘yeah, it’s okay,’ the more that we open the doors to negative things in our community,” he said.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada is in agreement with Bear, going public with their stance that a lower legal drinking age is a bad idea.
“Just because they drink illegally now doesn’t mean that changing the age to make it legal will make it any better,” MADD prairie provinces service manager Louise Twerdy said.
Younger people are more prone to taking chances, so enabling them at a young age to legally purchase alcohol puts them at greater risk, she said.
“Their tolerance for risk is a lot higher than when they’re older, so you’re dealing with that,” she said.
Not only should the province maintain a legal drinking age of 19, but Twerdy feels that they should also be less tolerant of alcohol when it comes to people driving motorized vehicles.
Currently, Saskatchewan drivers must adhere to a zero per cent blood alcohol limit while under the graduated licence program, which lasts 12 months from the point of receiving one’s driver’s licence, regardless of their age.
“What we would like to see across the board is what the province of Ontario has brought in, with a zero (blood alcohol) tolerance until they’re 21,” Twerdy said, reiterating that it’s the young drivers that are most likely to take the risk of driving while intoxicated.
On the other side of the spectrum, the SIAST Students’ Association would welcome a lower legal drinking age, president for Kelsey and Woodland Campuses Caitlin Grant said.
“They’re grown adults, and they have the right to join the army, vote, sign legal documents, so we think it’s only fair that they should enjoy a beer as well, so we think this would be a good thing for students,” she explained.
“It is kind of silly that they have to wait a year to fully be an adult, to do things that other adults can do, so why not make it all one age?”
Individuals don’t even have a chance to shape their lives, or to do anything positive in life because alcohol takes over, and their dreams and everything are shot downhill. - Counsellor Andrew Bear, of Bear Camp Counselling
Today’s youth are more educated than ever about the dangers of drinking and driving, which Grant feels will mitigate potential negative side effects of lowering the legal drinking age.
The Students’ Association spreads this education by example, ensuring that students who attend their functions don’t over-consume alcohol and have designated drivers.
“There are a certain number of first-years and even second-years who can’t attend events because they’re not yet 19, so I think that would be a good thing for creating campus culture,” she said.
From a business perspective, the proposed change has its pros and cons, Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Merle Lacert said.
Some concerns include possible increases in alcohol in schools and alcohol-related accidents, such as with motor vehicles.
On the other hand, it would bring Saskatchewan on par with the bordering provinces of Manitoba and Alberta, which both boast legal drinking ages of 18.
“We do have a very high percentage of youth, so from a retailer perspective, it could open the doors to a new segment of clientele,” Lacert said.
“I think it has some positives, but we want to make sure it’s the best thing overall.”
Lacert notes that lowing the drinking age to 18 is still in its earliest stages of provincial discussions, with the chamber supportive of a consultation process to determine its pros and cons.
This, RCMP Sgt. Ron MacRae said, is the next logical step, and one he looks forward to seeing the results of.
“The issue has never been studied by us, so I don’t know what effect it would have,” he said.
The same applies to the Prince Albert Police Service, Sgt. Kelly McLean said, noting that their main area of concern is their underlying mandate of ensuring public safety.
“We’re very confident that the Saskatchewan government will practice due diligence,” he said. “We’re pleased that they’re seeking public opinion and practicing their due diligence.”
In the end, Bear said that he hopes the government doesn’t pay too much mind to youth who scream out, “I want (a legal drinking age of) 18 because I want to party!”
“Rights come with a little bit of work. In order to achieve rights, we have to put a little bit into it,” he said.
“I’m not opposed to people drinking, I’m opposed to people drinking irresponsibly, and the younger you go, the more irresponsibly it is.”