"Honey, what do you think about strippers in bars?"
This is the start of a potentially awkward conversation that occurs only in Saskatchewan. Everywhere else in the Dominion, the merits, or otherwise, of allowing strippers to pursue their vocation in licensed premises is a subject not likely to arise at the dinner table.
Outside Saskatchewan strip clubs don't represent a live issue of public policy. They just "are" and "always have been." Husbands/boyfriends are not called upon to have and to express an opinion on the whole "naked ladies in beer parlours" idea.
Couples are free to avoid discussion of pole dancing, the details of the lap dance, no-touch rules, or how to tip a woman in a g-string when all you have is a toonie. Everywhere but here in Saskatchewan -- guys need not declare themselves "pro" or "con" strip joints. We envy those guys. Like them, we'd rather talk about the weather.
Among the variety of unique cultural features of Canada's only rectangular province is that we don't have peeler bars, or whatever you call them. It is another of those quirky things that makes us so interesting and quaint -- like the fact that we don't have daylight savings time.
Strip clubs aren't illegal here. You just can't sell liquor at them. Without booze, strip clubs just aren't viable. Apparently, guys need to drink while strippers perform. It gives them something to do with their hands, I guess. So, we don't have strip clubs. There does not appear to be any strong movement to change things. For example, there is a Facebook page titled "We Want Strippers in Saskatchewan," but in the two years it has been up, it has attracted seven "likes" and only one comment -- and that from a guy who wrote only to express his disappointment that the page had no pictures.
Nonetheless, it is an issue that seethes quietly among a significant portion of the drinking population and, perhaps especially, those who would sell them booze. Every once in a while, there is a flare up of public interest.
A couple of news items this spring caused just such a flare up. The first was the shutting down by provincial authorities of a fund-raising event in Saskatoon at which the Chippendales dance troupe was performing. No sauce for the gander means no sauce for the goose.
The second, and my personal favourite, related to the inaugural season in Saskatchewan of the Lingerie Football League. Columnists and commentators were sure that the killjoys who regulate liquor in this province would not allow the sale of beer and spirits at LFL games. For the information of those who are not sports fans, the Lingerie Football League is exactly what the name suggests -- women playing football in their underwear. Saskatchewan has two franchises -- the Saskatoon Sirens and the Regina Rage. There are only two other teams in the league -- in Toronto and Vancouver. Saskatchewan, then, has more lingerie football franchises per capita than any jurisdiction in Canada, perhaps the world. We love football.
Fortunately, our worst fear -- underwear football without beer -- turned out to be unwarranted. The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority -- the provincial agency which creates the rules around immoral commerce here -- assured us that, despite the odd nip-slip or deep wedgie, lingerie football was not prohibited entertainment and we're all free to enjoy it in public while getting pissed. Whew.
The rules are very clearly set out in the Alcohol Control Regulations, 2002, under the title "Prohibited Entertainment." If you're selling booze, you can't have, on the premises, "any nude activity or entertainment" nor can you can have anything that looks like "a striptease performance or wet clothing contest." These regulations have been further clarified, helpfully, by a panel of "Commissioners" who hear challenges to enforcement actions and issue written decisions. Essentially, the Commissioners tell us, the regulation aims to prohibit entertainment in bars which causes "titillation." I assume this is where the expression "titi bar" came from.
Titillation? After a few days on the tractor or a month on the rigs, almost everything is titillating on a Saturday night out. The fact that a woman will bring you as much beer as you can pay for -- and won't judge you -- well, that is particularly arousing to most of us.
We're not like those testosterone-fueled big city types in Toronto, who sit at their desks with boners that you get only from making a shitload of money by clicking your mouse all day. Those guys need something powerful and raw to get them going after work.
Not here. Strippers are so "in your face," so devoid of nuance. Nothing is left to the imagination. And we have a lot of imagination here, where, for eight months of the year, women are decked out in parkas, ski pants and Sorels -- but are, nonetheless, so very very hot.
Whenever the issue does arise, and before it fades away again, there is an embarrassed hue and cry about how backward and stupid it is that we can't be titillated while we drink. Ten years ago, a constitutional challenge was brought, claiming that the regulations violated the strippers' Charter-protected freedom of expression. [I, too, have noticed that I express myself more effectively when everyone around me is drunk.] Ultimately, the challenge failed, and the Supreme Court declined to hear it, scandalously believing, I assume, that whether prairie folk could have Brazilians with their Cuba Libres was not a matter of national concern.
One common lament about the current policy is that it is a throwback -- that Saskatchewan ought simply to "get with the times." Stripper bars, on this view, are an example of hip modernity and our refusal to embrace them is the equivalent of holding on to our rotary dial phones or watching a TV with rabbit ears.
Many blame the regulators, those nameless, faceless bureaucrats who oversee and enforce the titillation ban. It is common to hear these public servants characterized as "Puritans." Really. Liquor licenses are issued by the same people who sell liquor, run casinos and put video lottery terminals in bars and who bring in about half a billion dollars a year doing these things. I did a little research on the Puritans: rum running and gambling don't appear to be consistent with their faith. These officials are more like old-style gangsters than Puritans.
No, I don't think it is backwardness or puritanism that keeps Saskatchewan a peeler-free zone. No politician wants to be "The Guy who Brought Strip Clubs to the Province." Though long gone,Tommy Douglas peers over the shoulder of every public figure here, and you can imagine what the Baptist minister thought of strip bars.
And, despite our "economic powerhouse" pretensions, Saskatchewan is, and likely will remain, just a very large small town. There is no anonymity here. We know everybody's business. While that is just great if your barn is on fire, it sucks when you're trying to get away with something kind of sleazy.
If you're spending time at the strip club, we'll all know, because we'll see your truck parked there, or we'll notice you're not at the rink. We'll probably mention it to your Mom. Strip clubs are best placed outside the province.
Follow Ross Macnab on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rossknows