In all the talk about the new Saskatchewan, what sometimes gets lost is that not everything about the old Saskatchewan was bad.
There again, perhaps it is time every now and again to refresh old attitudes.
The Saskatchewan Party government’s decision to not change the drink age from its current 19 years speaks to both issues.
Some are already questioning whether the announcement by Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) Minister Donna Harpauer to keep the status quo and not lower the drinking age to 18 years is just another example of a risk-averse province holding on to its past.
The drinking age in Manitoba and Alberta is 18 years. And with a worse record of underage drinking and underage drinking and driving than either neighbouring province, there’s an argument that Saskatchewan’s more prudish approach simply isn’t working, anyway.
But a province — always overly sensitive about its perception as a little more backwards than more urban provinces — shouldn’t ever had to apologizing for doing the right thing.
And lest anyone think that lowering the drinking age to 18 years is the right thing, consider the tragic death of 17-year-old Jaiden Lynn Slaferek.
Slaferek was the Grade 12 student from Qu’Appelle who plunged 12 metres to her death from the catwalk above the stage at Regina’s Conexus Arts Centre on Jan. 15, 2012.
Jaiden and two companions — 19-year-old Mason Smyth and 21-year-old Todd Horrocks — were in a place they shouldn’t have been in. The trio went to great lengths to be there. They got on a freight elevator, went up a series of stairs and through several unlocked doors including one reading “Danger, Do Not Enter” and under a girder to gain access to the catwalk that is no longer in use because of safety concerns.
They did what young people sometimes do: They made some very bad choices when their judgment was impaired by alcohol.
At the time of her death from head trauma, Jaiden Slaferek’s blood alcohol content was four times the legal limit — some place between .30 and .37. Certainly, she was far too drunk to be navigating a 70-centimetre wide catwalk.
They had been drinking at a house party earlier and more alcohol was snuck into the high school dance at the Conexus Art Centre.
Now, some would choose to view this event as evidence that the age 19 drinking age isn’t working anyway.
But Jaiden’s father Rick Slaferek views it as a call to tighten up the law as it applies to those who would provide alcohol to underage kids.
“The whole issue seems to be acceptable in our society today,” Slaferek told reporters after his daughter’s coroner’s inquest. “I would really like to see it start at home that we clamp down on that.
“You get close to grad and multitudes of parents buy their kids liquor. They’re not 19. We need them to feel there are consequences.”
Of course, the issue is a complicated one. Many parents feel that under-age kids drinking in the controlled environment of a house party is a lesser evil than allowing their teenagers to sneak away to drink or drink and drive. There is legitimacy to this point as well.
However, Slaferek does seem to have a point that maybe we do need to rethink our approach. In our rural culture, the drunken bush party is often seen as a right-of-passage for both rural and urban kids. And until we see a tragedy like that of the Slaferek family, we assume that is just the way it has to be.
Sometimes it is important to re-examine our old way of thinking.
But sometimes it’s also important to recognize what we are already doing works best.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.