Time for governments to call a halt to persecution
Mayor Bill Smith and his anti-smoking cronies on council repeatedly said a tough new bylaw would not hurt business for the hospitality industry.
But now Smith's actions and those of other council members prove that mantra was all a sham.
This past week city council refused to back the building of a $120-million west-end gaming and entertainment complex on Enoch Cree First Nations' land at the end of Whitemud Drive.
Administration had recommended the city begin drawing up an agreement to provide city water and sewers for the project.
Politicians decided Lewis Estates residents had not had enough time to study the would-be agreement so they stalled proceedings for a couple of more weeks.
There are a handful of contentious issues, but one of the stickiest relates to smoking.
Several council members have said the city should not provide services to the complex unless the band follows Edmonton's draconian smoking bylaw.
That bylaw will ban butts in restaurants and private clubs this Tuesday, July 1.
In two years it will prohibit smoking just about everywhere, including bars, bingo halls and casinos.
Why is council so keen to force our nonsensical smoking law on a native band?
Because they fear Edmonton smokers will abandon casinos and bingo halls here and simply slip across the border to enjoy drinking and smoking at the native complex.
Talk about arrogance! City council most often cannot even govern Edmonton properly, yet it wants to rule people who don't even live in this city.
The other incident that proves the mayor realizes business will be hurt by our smoking ban arose at a council committee meeting this week.
Coun. Stephen Mandel stormed out of a meeting after Mayor Bill Smith stopped the politician's smoking-bylaw questions.
Mandel wanted five extra minutes to grill city bureaucrats on whether businesses would be able to push for tax cuts if it can be proven Edmonton's smoking bylaw has bled cash from their bottom lines.
"I sat here all day to ask questions," Mandel beefed after Smith refused to let him ask more questions on the topic. "This is not the way to do business."
Yes, it appears our self-proclaimed pro-business mayor is not quite the biz-friendly fella he has long claimed to be.
Mandel's logic is, well, absolutely logical.
There are precedents already set whereby local governments have given financial help to bingo halls hurt by draconian smoking bans.
I think it might well be possible to win a lawsuit against politicians who enact legislation knowing it will hurt certain businesses. And it is obvious city council members have admitted that with their actions.
If you want to know how much business will be hurt, talk to Barry McKay. He's general manager of an Ontario hospitality industry group called PUBCO that fights tougher smoking bylaws.
McKay is quick to tell of the damage that Ottawa's widescale ban has had on business there since enacted in August 2001.
"Ottawa's ban has been nothing short of a disaster for the bar industry," said McKay.
"We've seen 60 places close and losses of $1 million a month in beer sales alone.
"Besides that, people are streaming across the river to Gatineau where you can still smoke. All kinds of new bars are opening over there."
It is a tough battle to beat back bans, but the 67-year-old retired bar owner figures the fight is well worth it.
He estimates 30% to 40% of Ontario communities have heavy-duty bans that prohibit smoking in bars and restaurants.
It irks him to no end that municipal council members everywhere refuse to admit business is hurt by such bans.
"What do any of them know about running a hospitality business?" McKay asks. "Most of them haven't run so much as a lemonade stand in their lives."
He figures his group's best chance to beat the bans in Ontario is to push the provincial government to step in.
He hopes the Tory government there might take similar action to what was done in British Columbia.
In B.C. the province ruled that smoking in bars is allowed if proper ventilation is used to clean the air in a room.
"I don't know why Ontario's government hasn't stepped into this," said McKay. "They're supposed to be pro-business."
That is a valid question - one that should also be posed to Alberta's provincial government politicians.
They're pro-business, too. Aren't they?