Phew! Undergrads in Ontario will still be allowed to drink

McGuinty rejects proposal to raise drinking age to 21

Frosh parties and uni crawls can go on! Undergrads all over Ontario breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday when Premier Dalton McGuinty dismissed a call from public health officials in London, Ont., to consider changing the drinking age from 19 to 21.

The board of health in London voted 4-3 Monday to request that the legal drinking age be increased to 21 as part of a series of measures to fight alcohol-related deaths and injuries.

But McGuinty said he believes the parents of teenagers would do a better job of stopping young people from drinking than tougher laws.

“If you’re going to rely on the law to ensure that your kids aren’t drinking underage, then you don’t have a good understanding of human nature,” he said before a Liberal caucus meeting.

“While we have a law in place which I think has struck the right balance, it’s also really important for parents to take a real interest in what their kids are doing, to try to impress upon them the dangers associated with drinking alcohol.”

Ontario’s legal drinking age was originally lowered to 18 from 21 in 1971, but was increased to 19 in 1979 after complaints that too many high school students were getting drunk.

Alberta, Quebec and Manitoba have the legal drinking age set at 18, while it’s been 19 in the other provinces and territories since the 1970s.

The London health unit voted to ask other public health agencies in Ontario to endorse its proposal and to lobby the province to change the law after a report from medical officer of health Graham Pollett said alcohol was a factor in 6,000 deaths a year in Canada.

Other measures endorsed by the Middlesex-London Health Unit called for the legal blood-alcohol limit in drivers to be lowered from 0.08 per cent to 0.05 per cent, and for a zero blood-alcohol limit for drivers under age 21.

A 2007 survey of student drug use in Ontario by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found 61 per cent of students consumed alcohol in the past year, and 26 per cent reported binge drinking in the four weeks before the survey.

Other statistics showed 12 per cent of drivers still attending high school got behind the wheel within an hour of having two or more drinks, and 26 per cent reported riding in a car with a driver who had been drinking.

The Gazette, the student newspaper at the University of Western Ontario in London, reported Tuesday that the board of health’s actions could be disastrous for business at local bars, but could be a real boon for “entrepreneurs of Ontario’s fake ID industry.”

-with a report from CP