POLITICS
04/11/2019 16:24 EDT | Updated 04/15/2019 14:27 EDT

Ontario To Legalize Online Gambling, Let Bars Serve Liquor At 9 A.M.

Loosening alcohol laws has become a major theme for Premier Doug Ford’s government.

cyano66 via Getty Images
A woman plays an online gambling game in a stock photo. The Ontario government announced it plans to legalize online gambling in its 2019 budget.

TORONTO — The Ontario government is making it easier for residents to drink, gamble, or do both at the same time, with sweeping changes made in Premier Doug Ford's first budget.

Bars will be allowed to start serving liquor at 9 a.m. every day of the week and advertise "happy hour" promotions. Casinos will be allowed to give out alcohol for free. Municipalities will be able to permit drinking in public spaces like parks.

The government is moving forward on its promise to let convenience stores and box stores sell beer and wine. It also wants to lower the price of beer at legion halls.

"Alcohol reform is something long-desired by the people of Ontario," the Progressive Conservative budget document released Thursday says.

"The government is committed to respecting adult consumers by trusting them to make responsible choices that work for them."

Frank Gunn/CANADIAN PRESS
Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli presents the 2019 budget as Premier Doug Ford looks on at the legislature in Toronto on April 11, 2019.

Ford's government also wants to legalize online gambling.

Ontarians spend about $500 million a year gambling on the internet, the budget says, with most of that money going to illegal websites. The PCs will create a legal market for these sites.

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli brushed off questions about the social impact of increased access to alcohol.

Asked by a reporter why drinking at 9 a.m. is a priority for his government, Fedeli said, "We know that we can trust families to do the right thing."

More from HuffPost Canada:

Loosening alcohol laws has become a key theme for Ford's government.

One of the premier's trademark campaign promises, known as "buck-a-beer," was to lower the minimum price for a single beer to $1. Ontario residents spent $1.6 million on 76,000 cases of buck-a-beers, the budget says.

There aren't any breweries still offering buck-a-beers permanently, but some companies continue to offer the promotion on holiday weekends.

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser likened Ford to Matthew McConaughey's character in the film "Dazed and Confused."

We've been talking about alcohol for the duration of this government.John Fraser

Fraser said his daughter asked him if Ford thinks he's Premier Wooderson, in reference to the iconic character who loves partying.

"I do not understand the obsession with alcohol," Fraser said. "We've been talking about alcohol for the duration of this government."

He said changes to liquor law should only be prioritized after major issues like health care and education are taken care of.

NDP finance critic Sandy Shaw noted that while the word "alcohol" appears in the budget dozens of times, the word poverty does not appear once.

Previously On HuffPost: