Not every political policy has to be a calculated game

Saskatchewan Party debates lowering drinking age to 18


Frederic Sierakowski/Rex/CP Images

Young Canadians may drive a car at the age of 16. At 17, they can join the Canadian Forces and be asked to give their lives for their country. In many provinces, 18-year-olds can be called to jury duty and thus decide on the fate of fellow citizens. They can also vote, or get married without their parents’ permission. And yet, to get a drink in a bar, most Canadians have to be 19 years old. Is this fair? Saskatchewan, to its credit, is about to ask the question.

At a Saskatchewan Party convention earlier this month, members passed a resolution calling for the provincial drinking age to be lowered from 19 years to 18. Such a move is not out of line with the province’s neighbours; both Manitoba and Alberta allow 18-year-olds to drink, as does Quebec. The rest of the country sets the age of majority at 19.

Saskatchewan Party Leader and Premier Brad Wall agreed the topic was worth debating. “We take resolutions at the convention very seriously,” he said. “But before we make any changes we are going to have to consult.” The mere suggestion he’d consider the idea was met with an instant barrage of criticism.

Lobby group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) immediately demanded the exact opposite course of action. “I would hope that the Saskatchewan Party or any government body would not lower the liquor age,” Diane Fontaine of MADD told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. “I would hope they raise it.” MADD routinely demands that drinking and driving laws be toughened across the country.

Another skeptic, Peter Butt, associate professor of medicine at the University of Saskatchewan, noted various physiological reasons why the drinking age should not be lowered and added: “I don’t think there are that many 18-year-olds that are suddenly going to go out and vote, so it seems to be of limited value politically.”

Butt has a point. It does seem unlikely a switch in the drinking age will provide Wall with an increased majority next time he finds himself at the polls. And this is precisely why the resolution, and the premier’s reaction to it, seem so refreshing.

We live in an era when political moves are endlessly strategized and rigorously focus-tested to ensure maximum public appeal with minimum fuss. But as a result, many issues lacking in sufficient upside are treated as dangerously toxic. The mere act of discussing perennially controversial topics—abortion, to pick a recent example—has come to be considered an act of heresy, not to mention political suicide.

While there may not be an obvious or immediate political payoff to debating the drinking age in Saskatchewan, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a closer look. Public discourse in this country ought to be robust enough to consider questions of fairness, regardless of political advantage.

Critics of lowering the drinking age admittedly make some strong points. Keeping alcohol away from high school students, for example, seems like a good idea. So too is the goal of reducing drunk driving. Yet the drinking age in the United States is uniformly 21 and the U.S. rate of fatal crashes involving alcohol exceeds that in many provinces with drinking ages set at either 18 or 19.

Further, Saskatchewan is the only province to impose administrative penalties on drivers caught with a blood alcohol level of 0.04 per cent: the toughest impaired-driving standard in the country. So Saskatchewan obviously takes the issue of drunk driving seriously.

Saskatchewan Party youth representatives, the source of the proposal, argue the current drinking age creates problems on university campuses, where most frosh cannot legally buy a beer. The current law obviously doesn’t eradicate underage drinking, rather it pushes it out of sight, where greater dangers lurk. It also makes sense to harmonize Saskatchewan’s drinking laws with those of its neighbours. And as we noted earlier, Canadian society already recognizes 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds to be adults in many circumstances. Is it fair to deny them a drink if they can already drive, soldier or vote?

We should seek balance and thoughtfulness, rather than exaggerated severity, in our laws. Continually ratcheting federal criminal sentencing guidelines higher and higher is not a convincing policy for reducing crime, despite its popularity among the Harper government. The same goes for zero tolerance laws that replace intelligence with impulse, as well as recent demands that every volunteer get a police check before coming within shouting distance of children. Ever-harsher rules do not necessarily improve society.

There are worthy arguments on either side of the drinking-age debate. But that’s no reason to avoid it. Wall is right to take on the hot topic of cold drinks.


Not every political policy has to be a calculated game

  1. Ontario should also lower the drinking age to 18. Since they got rid of OAC, the whole “we have to wait until they are out of high school” defense has mostly gone by the wayside. 19 just seems so arbitrary.

  2. The articles says “MADD routinely demands that drinking and driving laws be toughened across the country.” It would be far more accurate to say that “MADD routinely demands that ALL alcohol laws be toughened across the country.”

    Despite the name, Mothers Against Drunk Driving isn’t an anti-drunk driving group as much as it is a neo-prohibitionist group. The group’s founder has even condemned their extremism.

  3. “Veterans Affairs alters conclusions of medical reports to deny Disability Benefits”

    Part 2

    I then asked if I was immunized while on active duty in Afghanistan and
    suffered an injury as a result would it be considered service-related
    and the case manager stated “yes, it would”. I pointed out the
    double standard which the case manager agreed with but she still
    refused to acknowledge my injury was service-related. Another case
    manager told me the main concern of Veterans Affairs was, if they
    approved the rehabilitation application and the pension application
    was denied, they would not be able to cut off my benefits until I
    reach the age of 65. Next I asked if they recognized the validity of
    the information from Alberta Health Services verifying I had a
    serious adverse reaction to the H1N1 vaccination. Again the case
    manager refused to answer the question but stated symptoms are not
    the same as adverse reactions. I then attempted to educate the case
    manager explaining adverse reactions are undesirable symptoms
    according to Health Canada and the vaccine manufacturer GSK.
    Incredibly, the case manager continued to disagreed advising me that
    even though I may have had an adverse reaction that my symptoms are
    not related to the adverse reaction. After arguing with the case
    manager over the definition of “service related” and adverse
    reactions versus symptoms, she told me to contact Alberta Health
    Services and use their rehabilitation programs instead of Veterans
    Affairs because VA programs are meant to get members back to work and
    are not for the permanently disabled. In fact she advise me Alberta
    Health Services will pay for all the rehabilitation that I require. I
    asked to speak with the Veterans Affairs doctor who advised the case
    manager regarding the adverse reaction and was provided his name and
    was told he was not in the office this week. Through the College of
    Physicians and Surgeons in Alberta website I was able to instantly
    identified him as a General Practitioner with no specialty in
    immunization and obtained his direct phone number within Veterans
    Affairs. I immediately called and was prompted with a message
    advising me he was on the phone and to leave a message which I did.
    To date he has not returned my call which was not a surprise to me.
    Following a previous pension application that was denied, I obtained
    the medical report from the Veterans Affairs doctor who reviewed my
    file which stated my injury was also not related to service, however
    he ignored medical information from several of my doctors, altered
    the conclusion of one of several of my neurologists reports and then
    claimed there was no agreement on my diagnosis, which became grounds
    for denying the application. He then speculated in his report that
    had the military determined my diagnosis was related to service there
    was no medical treatment that would relieve my symptoms. According to
    the College of Physicians and Surgeons this doctor is listed as a
    general surgeon with no specialties in neurology or other
    disciplines. When I asked the case manager why the information from
    my doctors were not used in evaluating the validity of my
    application, especially when Veterans Affairs specifically requested
    it and paid my doctors to provide the reports, I was told Veterans
    Affairs took the position they did not have to use it and chose not
    to. I forwarded the Veterans Affairs Medical Report to my neurologist
    whose conclusions were altered by the Veterans Affairs doctor.
    Incredibly my neurologist called me on the weekend and advised me the
    Veterans Affairs doctors conclusions were false, that he did not have
    the authority and professional experience to reinterpreted his
    report. Clearly he was annoyed and stated the Veterans Affairs doctor
    should have consulted a specialist who was familiar with my condition
    and symptoms. Veterans Affairs admitted the doctor had made errors,
    but refused to review the original application advising me to appeal
    the decision through an Administrative Review which would take
    another 6 – 8 months. In 2012 I have been bedridden for more than 2
    months, housebound most days, spent more than $10,000 paying for
    medication, therapy and specialized equipment to assist in my daily
    living and to manage my symptoms. I am now unable to afford the
    specialized physiotherapy which costs thousands of dollars each year
    and am unable to work due to my disability. I have written to the
    Minister of Veterans Affairs. To date, no response has been received.

  4. As an 18 year old, the fact is if we are going to drink we have friends or family members who are willing to “pull” alcohol for them. It is not hard for most to acquire alcohol. Also due to the fact that Manitoba and Alberta both have legal drinking age of 18 it has become somewhat of a tradition that when one turns 18 they will most likely travel to Alberta or Manitoba to drink legally, and most often buy excessive amounts of alcohol to bring back to Saskatchewan with them. I do not think a change in the drinking age will have much of an effect since, as I said before, most 18 year olds who will consume alcohol when they turn 19 are already (and most likely have for years) consuming alcohol on a regular basis, or at least once a month. I don’t really see many advantages of the changing of the drinking age, but there are also no disadvantages.

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