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‘Treating people like adults’: Ford dismisses raising drinking age to 21 in Ontario

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he disagrees with alcohol-related recommendations from the province’s top doctor, particularly raising the legal drinking age by two years.

In his annual report, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, recommended adding new restrictions to legal substances like alcohol and vapes, while also looking at decriminalizing personal possession and use of illegal drugs.

The report, released at the end of March, called for warning labels on alcoholic drinks outlining the risks of drinking, including cancer. It suggested the idea of increasing the legal drinking age from 19 to 21 should also be on the table.

Asked about the recommendation on Wednesday, Ford praised his chief medical officer but said he disagreed with the suggestion.

“He has his opinion, we have ours. We believe in treating people like adults,” Ford said.

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The province is currently expanding access to alcohol through plans to allow the sale of beer, wine and mixed drinks at convenience and grocery stores. From 2026 onwards, the government has promised alcohol will be available outside the Beer Store, Winerack and LCBO stores, although the latter will continue its monopoly in spirits.

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“Right across the world, you get to go into a retail store, a big box store and buy a bottle of wine with your steak, maybe a six-pack of beer,” Ford continued Wednesday. “That’s what we believe in.”

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In his annual report, Moore worried about a “disturbing trend” of binge drinking and vaping — including cannabis products — among Ontario youth.

The report, citing recently released data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, found 33 per cent of adults said they used cannabis in 2020, an eight per cent increase from 2019. And when it released its cannabis survey in 2022, Health Canada reported the number of Ontarians who died of alcohol toxicity rose 16 per cent between 2018 and 2021.

“We have also seen concerning changes in substance use patterns and harms more broadly, including higher rates of vaping among non-smokers, increased unintentional poisonings in children from cannabis ingestion, and an ongoing high burden of hospitalizations and cancers caused by alcohol,” Moore said in the report.

However, Ford suggested the fact 19-year-olds can join the Canadian Armed Forces meant they should be allowed to drink alcohol.

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“We support Dr. Moore and the job he’s doing. Do we disagree? Yes, we disagree,” the premier said. “I disagree with raising the age to 21. One of my principles is: these young people put a uniform on and go fight for freedom… and they can’t go back later and have a beer. That doesn’t cut it, that was one of my principles.”

People aged 17 can enlist with the armed forces with parental permission, while 18-year-olds are allowed to join without permission from a guardian.

Moore’s report also recommended a more liberal attitude to illegal drugs to allow for safer supply and reduce overdose deaths in the province.

Calling opioid overdose deaths “preventable,” Moore suggested attacking the issue on multiple fronts, including safe supply, to help deal with overdose deaths.  He said roughly 2,500 people die of overdoses annually.

“We want pathways for people who need treatment with addiction issues,” Minister of Health Sylvi Jones said on Wednesday. “We have to let Ontarians be adults, just as we see in other Canadian jurisdictions and I think there is a better way than legalizing drugs and opioids in particular.”

In a lengthy statement released after Moore’s report was published, Jones’ office said the government was “not exploring” the expert recommendations.

“Recommendations to restrict legal substances while decriminalizing hard drugs are inconsistent and ignore the unintended consequences and significant public safety concerns experienced by other jurisdictions that have implemented similar proposals,” a spokesperson for Jones said.

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— with files from The Canadian Press

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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