Calgarians will have a chance to enjoy an alcoholic beverage in select city parks as a part of a pilot project expected in June.
The motion was put forth by Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, who said the need for people to get outdoors became evident when COVID-19 hit. In a twist of irony, it was at that time a potential plan was to come forward before the pandemic began.
It was eventually approved 12-2 by councillors.
“I think the overwhelming response from citizens and businesses has been very enthusiastic about this,” he said.
It’s not the first time this has been pushed forward. It initially came to council back in 2018. The city did public engagement on it at that time and a survey showed 40 per cent of Calgarians against.
Coun. Carra understood the problems that are associated with allowing alcohol in the parks.
“If it’s a problem and those people who are concerned about this turned out to be right, we can pull the plug,” Carra said.
Alberta Health Services delivered a 22-page letter that was in opposition to the plan for alcohol consumption in Calgary parks. Particularly because of the issue with mental health during COVID-19.
“Without alcohol, parks are important places for lower-risk gatherings and exercise during COVID-19,” wrote Dr. Karla Gustasfson, Medical Officer of Health, Calgary Zone.
“Alcohol in the parks would jeopardize the physical and mental health benefits that are especially needed now.”
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he was sympathetic to this perspective. He also said he’s in favour of small experiments like this pilot project to test things out.
How it will work
According to the City of Calgary’s director of park, Kyle Ripley, it will be at select smaller local parks and not regional ones.
Eventually it could be rolled out to 60 small parks in Calgary. Select picnic tables – not all – would have signs and people would be able to book the tables for use. It would be similar to the way the firepit bookings rolled out in the winter.
“Having the tables booked is also a data point for us to assess the popularity of the program,” Ripley said.
Beer or wine would be allowed for consumption at these locations. The pilot would begin June 1 and end in early September, COVID-19 restriction dependent.
Opposition to the plan
Both Couns. Jeromy Farkas and Diane Colley-Urquhart opposed the idea of allowing the drinking in Calgary parks. It was based on the premise of the AHS letter sent to council.
“When we look at the mixed messages we’ve been sending on a number of different issues, this to me, does the same thing,” Coun. Colley-Urquhart said.
Coun. Jyoti Gondek was opposed to the motion, but not opposed to drinking in parks.
Still, she understood why it was put forth this way, but feels like it’s over regulation.
“I think we are assuming the worst,” she said.
“I find myself holding my notes and voting in favor of it, but I sure hope we don’t make it painful to do these bookings. I don’t know why we wouldn’t just put signs on these picnic sites that say go ahead and have a drink here.”