The city is making it impossible for new restaurants to get liquor licenses

The city is making it impossible for new restaurants to get liquor licenses

(Image: Yves Freypons)

Thanks to an ongoing squabble between city council and the provincial government—and some related municipal-policy maneuvers—the stumbling blocks facing new restaurant owners in Toronto appear to have morphed into one giant, impenetrable bulwark. Here’s what happened.

Earlier this year, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario decided that it was no longer going to enforce certain conditions the city had attached to some liquor licenses. Those extra conditions, which had historically been monitored and enforced by provincial inspectors, included requirements to keep sidewalks clean and noise levels down—i.e. stuff the city understandably cares about, but would rather not have to pay for. Last month, city council retaliated against the province’s new laissez-faire approach by requiring businesses to supplement new liquor-license applications with letters of support from their area MPPs. It was, in effect, a passive-aggressive way of continuing to hold the province accountable for the consequences of liquor licenses.

What the city doesn’t seem to have anticipated, though, is the following Catch-22: according to the Star, MPPs’ integrity obligations prevent them from signing those letters of reference during provincial election periods. What’s more, the provincial Office of the Integrity Commissioner has advised MPPs that even after the election is over, they should avoid signing off on businesses they haven’t personally visited—which, given the growing restaurant populations in some areas, could potentially turn reference-letter writing into an MPP’s full-time job.

All this means that restaurants, bars and other businesses that want to begin serving alcohol are basically out of luck, at least for now. “I anticipated this process to be difficult and expensive, and to have to comply with a number of regulations that the city puts in place in order to operate responsibly,” said Jessica Leeder, owner of The Ten Spot spa in the Beach, talking to the Star. “What I did not expect is to encounter a problem that no hard work can amend.” It’s a big problem for bars, obviously, and also for restaurants, which rely on the standard 300-plus-per-cent markup on booze to turn profits.

So, the key takeaway for Toronto entrepreneurs: your livelihoods are being threatened for the noble cause of sticking it to the province.