MONTREAL — Quebec restaurants that do not have a bar licence such as Montreal's Ye Olde Orchard must sell a bowl of pasta or other small plates to patrons who just want to grab a pint of beer.
If a business doesn't have such a licence — which is not easy to acquire — it cannot serve alcohol without food.
That regulation will soon be over, thanks to Quebec's Bill 170, which was tabled Wednesday and is aimed at easing the province's liquor laws and making it simpler to acquire permits.
"It's great, I think that it will actually encourage people to come out," said Ye Olde Orchard co-owner Stephanie Carter. "A lot of people go out for dinner and then want to stop by for a pint."
Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said the goal of his bill is to facilitate the lives of citizens and business owners by modernizing the province's Prohibition-era liquor laws he described as "appallingly complex."
Another example of Quebec's antiquated liquor regulations is a rule that forbids children to sit on a bar patio with their parents after 8 p.m.
"Imagine it's a beautiful summer night, it's five minutes past 8," Coiteux told reporters. You're with your kids and you want to have a glass of wine on a nice terrasse. That's actually illegal and it's happened to me.
"Imagine the tourists from Europe who get off a cruise and we tell them this? This is what we want to change."
Bill 170 allows parents with kids to remain on a bar patio until 11 p.m., gives tourists the right to take a beer bought at the hotel bar back to their room, and liberates businesses open for just a few months a year from having to buy a full-year alcohol permit.
Coiteux said the legislation "simplifies the lives of people, simplifies the lives of industry. Who can be against this?"
If the law is passed, grocery and corner stores will be able to sell alcohol one hour earlier, at 7 a.m., and hotels will be allowed to serve alcohol in the lobby or elsewhere outside their bar or restaurant, which is currently illegal.
The law also creates two new categories of alcohol licences, including the "accessory permit," which gives a business that doesn't sell alcohol as its primary function, like a hair salon or a movie theatre, the right to offer liquor "during tourist, social, family, sporting, cultural or other activities."
Current law forces non-citizens to be in Quebec as a permanent resident in order to obtain a liquor licence. The new rules will give anyone the right to sell alcohol or invest in a bar or restaurant as long as they have a work permit issued by the federal government allowing them the right to work in Quebec.
"Why should it not be legitimate for someone, who has the legitimate right to work here, to get a permit?" Coiteux asked. "We have labour shortages and we need investment."
François Meunier, who is with Quebec's restaurateurs association, said the industry has been waiting 20 years for these changes.
While he welcomes Bill 170, his organization was hoping the government would have gone further, particularly with regard to rules about buying alchol, which has to be purchased through the province's state-owned liquor corporation.
Restaurant owners, for instance, can't walk across the street to buy a bottle of vodka at their local liquor outlet, but must purchase everything from a centralized warehouse.
Each bottle they buy is stamped with a specific sticker customized for their restaurant.
"We should be able to come up with a better and more efficient system," Meunier said.
Bill 170 gives the province's alcohol board more power to fine violators of the law, including those who advertise alcohol to children.
It also requires alcohol permit holders to take training sessions on the responsible consumption of alcohol.
Coiteux said details of the training will be given at a later time.
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press