I like red wine. I have a glass of wine most evenings with dinner. I like a cold beer on a hot day. I enjoy a glass of Drambuie in the late evening, now and then.
That being said, I understand that for some, alcohol is an addiction, and a cause of great pain, both for addicts and their families, and for those innocent people that have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, when dealing with a drunk driver.
I also realize that Prince Albert has more than its share of people dealing with the problem of alcohol, for a wide range of reasons. Some of those people cause very direct costs to the city, as most police calls are alcohol-related, and the police cells are full most evenings with people who have had too much to drink, and have nowhere else to go. Others manage to keep their problems under control, or have the supports in place to help them do so.
It's a good thing that this problem is starting to be discussed more openly, but I think that dragging it into last week's council discussion about funding for a sports event was taking advantage of the situation to score political points. To recap briefly - council had been asked to fund a local sports celebration to the tune of $2,500 specifically to sponsor a wine and cheese reception. The councillor who spoke to the issue said that he objected because it sends the wrong message when our city has such problems with alcohol abuse.
I, on the other hand, did not support it because I don't think that the city should give money for non-essentials, particularly to a group that can certainly afford to buy their own wine. It's rather ironic that the motion ended up passing, for the same $2,500, simply by removing the direct reference to sponsoring the wine and cheese reception. In other words, we gave the same amount of money, the wine and cheese reception went ahead, and the organizing committee just had to adjust their book-keeping a bit. But for some members of council, it gave the opportunity to look as though they're taking the high moral ground against something, even though no actual action was taken to address the underlying problem.
Too bad the same outcry didn't happen a few years ago, when we gave $48,000 to a golf celebration, a considerable amount of which was ear-marked specifically for wine and beer. Then-councillor Williams and I were the only ones to vote against that expenditure, for the same reason - the tax payer shouldn't be paying for alcohol, because it is a non-essential.
And where was this moralizing a few years ago, when the motion for a drive-through off-sale passed with a comfortable majority of council supporting it? How we could support making it even easier for people to access alcohol is beyond me, but again I was in the minority in opposing this, which has indirectly led to a recent court challenge - something that wouldn't have been necessary had we only done the right thing a few years ago.
The problem of alcohol abuse is a complex one, and one that the city has very few tools to deal with. City residents can decry the people drinking on benches in Memorial Square, but at the same time ignore the message that traditions like Safe Grad send to young people, despite the statistics that tell us that binge drinking by high school students is at scarily high levels.
If council is going to, as some say, take a stand against alcohol, what will we do the next time a request for a special occasion permit comes to us? In the past, such events, endorsed by council, have caused extra problems for police, but somehow don't raise public indignation to the same levels as do people passed out on the riverbank.
Alcohol is one of those vexing problems for which there is no clear solution that works for everyone. I don't know what the right answer, or combination of answers is. All I can do is continue to make decisions based on what I feel is best for the tax payer, and try to avoid making moral judgements that don't really change anything.
"Here's to alcohol: the cause of, and answer to, all of life's problems." - Matt Groening