P.A. officials support keeping legal drinking age at 19

Matt Gardner
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Prince Albert officials are praising the Saskatchewan government’s decision to maintain the province’s legal drinking age at 19.

Products line the shelves at Georgie’s Beer and Wine Store in Prince Albert. Local officials are praising the Saskatchewan government’s decision to retain 19 as the province’s legal drinking age.

Both Mayor Greg Dionne and local law enforcement expressed their support for the current status quo, in part because the community already has its hands full with alcohol-related issues.

“I’m pleased, strictly because in all aspects of drinking, we have a problem with youth and drinking, (including) drinking and driving trouble, and I do believe 18 was too young,” Dionne said.

“So I’m pleased to see that they’re not going to lower the age.”

Sgt. Kelly McLean of the Prince Albert Police Service echoed the mayor’s assessment.

“I know that our neighbours on either side of us in Alberta and Manitoba have a lower drinking age than we do, but I think that there’s no sense in tempting fate by lowering our drinking age here,” McLean said.

“I think that we’re challenged enough with the alcohol issues that we have locally and provincially that we need to get a handle on those things before we consider lowering the drinking age in our province.”

Dionne argued that lowering the drinking age would only worsen the problem of alcohol use among younger residents.

“The problem is, when you lower the age, then people start drinking even younger, because if you’re 18 you can still sneak into the bar,” he said.

“So I’m pleased (by the government decision). It’s not going to stop them from drinking, but at least it’ll keep it illegal.”

In making its decision, the Brad Wall government consulted numerous stakeholders across Saskatchewan, including provincial police chiefs, to determine the prudence of lowering the legal drinking age by one year.

Among major stakeholders, only the Hotels Association of Saskatchewan favoured the change.

“Last fall our government began looking at the possibility of lowering the drinking age in Saskatchewan, and since then my office has received a lot of correspondence from our main stakeholder groups, groups like chiefs of police, MADD, SADD, Hotels Association as well as … considerable feedback from individuals in Saskatchewan,” Minister of Crown Investments Corporation, SGI and SLGA Donna Harpauer said on behalf of the government.

I’m pleased, strictly because in all aspects of drinking, we have a problem with youth and drinking. Mayor Greg Dionne

“It was overwhelmingly supportive of not lowering the drinking age, and so that is the position our government took.”

The current debate is not the first time Saskatchewan has considered changing its legal drinking age.

For the first several decades of the province’s existence, the minimum age for drinking alcohol was 21, before it was lowered to 19 in 1969 and then again to 18 three years later. In 1976, the legal age was raised back up to 19.

That back-and-forth argument raises the question of whether the issue will be re-opened again at a later date. But for the moment, the government considers the matter closed.

“I really can’t predict what will happen in the future or when it will be revisited,” Harpauer said. “I’m sure this will end the conversation for a while, at any rate.”

The revival of the debate has brought back many of the same arguments from decades ago.

One of the most common reasons given for lowering the drinking age was the point that at 18, a citizen could vote, enlist in the army and drive a vehicle, but could not drink a beer.

Dionne challenged the premises of that argument.

“They’re using the argument, ‘Well, you can go to war, you can drive a vehicle.’ OK then, move the age of (being able to drive) the vehicle to 19.

“Why lower the age to 18? Let’s do the reverse.”

Organizations: Prince Albert Police Service, Hotels Association of Saskatchewan, MADD

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba

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