A Slam Drunk

I remain firm in my conviction that in bigger cities like Toronto, cities with a highly diverse population, with a diversity of needs, a diversity of competing interests, diversity of perspectives, elected local representatives are the hardest working, most put upon of all our politicians. (With exceptions, of course. Stephen Holyday could not secure a position in the public or private sector that would pay him to be as terrible at his job as he is as city councillor.) In Toronto specifically, the pressure’s even more intense, I’d argue, in the face of an openly hostile provincial government at Queen’s Park since 2018 that has cut the number of city council in half, doubling the workload and number of residents to serve, undermining local-decision making with ill-thought housing plans and transit and other major infrastructure initiatives with very little collaboration and a whole lot of because it can. Combined with the fallout from a global pandemic, the additional burdens of governance ultimately pushed well-intentioned and dedicated councillors out from public service long before their prime.

All that said… that said…

Nothing screams County Reeve & Lower-Tier Frivolousness like the debate we had to endure (again) at Toronto city council last week over allowing the consumption of alcohol in public parks. Again. Did I say ‘again’ already? Yes. Again. In 2023.

Resulting in what? you may ask, assuming, as any rational person might, Of course. Bottom’s up. Toronto’s not pushing the envelope here. Lagging might be how you’d describe it.

But no. After more hours of endless debate, city council decided to ask for a staff report on the feasibility of a pilot project to allow for the public consumption of alcohol in some (which?) parks, maybe as soon as this August, six weeks or so into the official start of summer, for a period of three months, after which, I guess, lids and caps back on, everyone! we’re going dry again while council and staff assess and tabulate the results, and decide if this official sanctioning of open licentiousness hasn’t overtly undermined the greater public weal.

You ask,

Don’t members of city council have more pressing, more important things to do? Yes. Yes, they do.

Doesn’t city staff have more pressing, more important things to do? Yes. Yes, they really do.

A stroll through the downtown Trinity-Bellwoods park on a beautiful summer-like day on Saturday, the day after the council vote, puts the fact on display that drinking in public parks has already been fully-embraced. Are we really going to try and put that genie back into the bottle if a majority of council decides to maintain the prohibition? We can try but would it be worth the increase in tension a by-law enforcement blitz would create?

So, maybe just in some parks in the city, some of the item’s proponents suggest, pending community support. Where it’s deemed appropriate. By the appropriate people.

Just more over-policing of public spaces.

There are already laws and rules in place to deal with the disruptive and destructive behaviour that may result from excessive drinking. Nobody should have to deal with drunken loutishness. But to believe that a designated community can forbid others to imbibe pleasantly, unobtrusively on a park bench? Toronto the Good much?

Another branch of the argument suggested that this matter should be handled through a harm-reduction approach, a motion passed that asked for a report from the city’s Medical Officer of Health. As if something that’s already occurring, unsanctioned, might fester into some public health crisis if given an official stamp of approval. All that’s standing between you and cirrhosis of the liver is city council’s go-ahead to start knocking ‘em back in the park.

Yes, alcohol is an addictive, dangerous drug that can wreck individual lives and vulnerable communities. Yes, there may be no amount of alcohol that is a safe amount. Yes, we should be constantly vigilant about the ill-effects of this legal substance of abuse.

A park prohibition standing as a bulwark against the evils of the devil’s mash? Toronto the Good with a whiff of the Temperance League. A lazy, dated paternalism.

What this ongoing debate and foot-dragging reveals is nothing less than blatant classism. Even the most well-intentioned of city councillors, trying to craft even the most well-intentioned regulations of public alcohol consumption, do so from a homeowners’ mindset, those with private spaces where they can enjoy a glass of vino or plonk outside in the sunshine. Drinking in public is a sign of dissolution. Its prohibition or regulation a symbol of outsized influence and entitlement. Mine is mine. Ours is mine too.

Toronto, in 2023, needs a city council that can, within the limitations it is subject to and which are, to a large part, beyond its control, ably macro-manage, as it did last week in opening up the entire city to the building of neighbourhood multiplexes (or late last year, giving the go-ahead to rooming houses city-wide). There isn’t the time or the resources available for council to micromanage matters that don’t require an overweening framework and are, frankly, relics from a distant, more repressive and oppressive age. The Babbit-like petty censoriousness city council continues to inflict on what is so flimsy an item as drinking in public smacks of a small-minded attempt to assert control over what it can and what isn’t necessary.


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