Staff at The Lands in La Ronge are among those still reeling after reading the alcohol recommendations. Photo provided by Tania Colbert.

A long list of proposed alcohol management recommendations for the Town of La Ronge are being likened to prohibition by some, and are being applauded by others after being widely shared on social media earlier this week.

The 49 controversial recommendations include prohibiting alcohol sales on month-end paydays, Canada Child Benefit days, Sundays, and statutory holidays. If adopted, retail liquor sales would be restricted to 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., “last call” would be done away with, bar liquor service would end at 1 a.m., and the Town of La Ronge would implement a five per cent levy on alcohol sales to be put towards “initiatives to increase the welling and public safety of the community.” There are a number of recommendations promoting safe transportation home for intoxicated people.

All the recommendations come from the Northern Alcohol Strategy (NAS), which since January of 2016 has employed three full-time employees “that are supported by human service ministries to remove their government hats and work on behalf of community to build capacity to address alcohol-related harm,” said NAS representative Carla Frohaug.

She told MBC the recommendations are “evidence-based policy options to address alcohol-related harm” that move last July’s NAS report on alcohol consumption in the community – which was endorsed by leadership from the tri-community area – from paper towards implementation. This is not something being unilaterally imposed on communities, Frohaug said.

“The Northern Alcohol Strategy’s role is to put together comprehensive information that’s backed up by evidence and best practice for consideration for communities, and so then it’s community’s role to take the information and decide what solutions are right for the community,” she said.

The next step is for the Community Alcohol Management Plan (CAMP) implementation committee to get feedback from community members on the recommendations. Mayor and council have previously looked over the list, which was shared publicly for the first time when the Town sent out letters to local business owners and organization chairs who would be affected by the changes if they move ahead. The letter asks for those people’s feedback at a Wednesday afternoon meeting in Council Chambers.

These images of proposed alcohol management recommendations have been circulating on social media. Photo by Chelsea Laskowski.

Bar owners and staff like Tania Colbert at The Lands and Jenny Vancoughnett at Kosta’s are reeling over how drastically these rules, if approved in full, would change the way they do business.

“My first thought was ‘oh wow… is this possible? I can’t believe what I’m reading.’ Like, they’re trying to make us go broke,” Vancoughnett told MBC.

“I thought it was a bit stern.”

She has calculated at least 87 days a year in which liquor could not be served or sold under the recommendations. While she acknowledges alcohol as a problem in La Ronge – especially for young people — she doesn’t see the restrictions as a solution.

“I believe this will do nothing to prevent the alcohol abuse in La Ronge, it’ll do nothing. It’ll hold it off for one day. It’s going to happen the next day, the same way,” Vancoughnett said.

She is supportive of some proposed ideas like reducing the hours in which liquor can be sold, increasing signage for how people can get a safe ride home, and requiring servers to take training to stop over-service. However, she questions the idea of bartenders being responsible for adults who “should be responsible for themselves and we shouldn’t have to babysit adults.”

While some online are likening the recommendations to prohibition, Frohaug said that’s not the case.

“The northern alcohol strategy is not a prohibition strategy, it’s supporting the responsible use and management of alcohol-related harm. And so that’s supporting options to address alcohol-related harm all along a spectrum, all the way from sobriety to responsible use to severe dependency,” she said.

In the end, it will be up to town council to decide whether or not to approve each recommendation.

There will be a town hall-type meeting on this topic as well, although a date has not yet been set for that. The recommendations allow 30 days for implementation planning for any approved policy changes, and a year for those changes to be enacted.

Frohaug said other northern communities like Montreal Lake Cree Nation and Wollaston Lake are in talks with NAS on how to reduce alcohol-related harms in their region. To her knowledge, no Saskatchewan communities have ever considered policy recommendations like this before.