A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece here about Saskatchewan's unique -- and some might say anachronistic -- peeler-free status. Ours is the only jurisdiction in North America where we don't allow strippers in bars. Or wet t-shirt contests. Generally speaking, unless you get a hard-on from hockey on TV or the ever-present prospect of a bar fight over a pool game, Saskatchewan's drinking night life is a flaccid affair.
I confidently expressed the view that, despite periodic flare-ups of interest on this issue, our no-titillation booze culture was never going to change. Not ever. So sure I was of myself. Do I know this province? Or what?
In a line I ought to have known I'd regret, I declared: No politician wants to be "The Guy Who Brought Strip Clubs to the Province."
It turns out that there is a politician who wants to be "That Guy." Her name is Donna Harpauer, the Minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority. My latent sexism prevented me from anticipating that this particular manifestation of patent sexism would be advanced by a woman.
The lifting of the stripper ban is only one feature of an entirely new regime of liquor freedom in this province. Minister Harpauer and the government have tried to keep the focus off the strippers and on the 70 or so non-stripper changes to our liquor laws. The government website announcement doesn't even mention strippers.
The changes will provide a host of new opportunities for public drinking here. We'll be able to buy a drink at the manicurist (giving new meaning to the expression "you're soaking in it"). We'll be drinking in movie theatres. In limousines and on tour buses. Golf courses will be allowed to have more than one booze cart. Sports venues will no longer be restricted in how many drinks they can sell to each customer (currently, there is a "one drink per hand" rule). Once the new regime is in place, if you are not drinking in Saskatchewan, you have only yourself to blame.
This new, relaxed legislative attitude towards booze is all very mature and hip and cosmopolitan if you believe that more drinking is all of those things. No doubt we'll be relentlessly counseled to drink "responsibly," albeit excessively.
If we'd had these rules back when I was drinking, I'd have spent way less time at home. The new laws represent the very definition of "win/win/win." We get to drink more. Those who sell booze get to sell more. The government brings in more revenue. There is no down side. More drinking is good for everyone. Obviously.
Actually, the legislative removal of booze barriers does not represent any substantive change in the culture of this province. Like most Canadians, we've always felt free to drink whenever and wherever we want, relying on the unwritten, but respected "paper bag" rule.
No, these "drink free or die" provisions are a side-story. The SaskParty Government is soft-selling it, but the real big news is that they are eliminating a truly unique cultural feature of the province: the stripper ban. Until now, you could have a drink in a bar here without having an Eastern European kidnap victim "exotically" shaking her stuff in your face. Despite what you may have heard, they're not all PhD students working to pay their tuition.
But wait. Not so fast. Saskatchewan won't completely lose its peculiar culture. We will simply express our peculiarity in a different, and more amusing way. Get this: our strippers won't be allowed to show everything. They'll have to keep a few things covered up. Yes, one of them rhymes with Regina. We will have "not quite" strippers, who will have to keep on g-strings and pasties.
Seriously? Pasties? G-strings? Having everything uncovered is normally how a stripper knows she's finished her act.This is like taking headshots out of hockey. Expect outrage.
The tricky thing will be enforcement of the new rules. Currently, it's pretty easy. An inspector goes into a bar; if there are no strippers, move to the next bar. Now, they'll be looking for nipples and naughty bits (and who isn't?) --- "Whoa there Missy -- I see a nipple. Well not a nipple, but an exposed bit of areola, I'm sure. Hold still while I get out my laser pointer. Oops. You're right, that's just a mole. You might want to have that looked at."
No doubt our technical institutes will create courses in primary and secondary sexual characteristic identification. Other such benefits will ripple through the economy.
More popular than our almost-peeled peelers, the province also plans to eliminate the prohibition against "wet clothing contests." You may expect the lads to flock to these contests -- for the love of competition, of course, but also for the opportunity to actually get a pretty good look at a nipple. I haven't heard whether there will be any rules about pertness.
People across the country used to mock us about our prudish stripper ban. It made us a bit odd and quaint. And, despite the howls of protest from those who had the time and energy to howl protestingly about such things, it was something most people either supported or cared nothing about. And, now, by making this change, we've been transformed from odd and quaint to idiotic. Pasties? Bums only? Nip and tuck inspectors? What is it about the "stripper" concept that the Saskatchewan Government doesn't understand?
Canada is still laughing. And, you know, I don't think they're laughing with us.
For those of us looking to make easy jokes, this Saskstripper issue is the gift that keeps on giving. But I think we've lost something valuable here. Yes, I've heard those who say that people should be able to do what they want, watch what they want to watch and be free to have a beer while they do it.
But, because the government regulates liquor and the places that sell liquor, there is a "public" aspect to it. Strip joints will now, through our government, have our blessing. We're implicated. It was nice when we weren't. I liked living in a province where, unlike everywhere else, we weren't so aggressively subject to the routine commercial reduction of women to their sex parts. And, while it would be foolish to suggest that the stripper ban meant that we were a feminist paradise, or that its loss will throw us into the mysogynistic abyss, it was at least a small symbolic gesture of respect.
Hopefully, this stripper nonsense does not overshadow a more important Saskatchewan story. A couple of days after the booze announcement, Premier Brad Wall addressed the situation of a refugee claimant from Pakistan, now living in Saskatoon.
The federal government had denied this man's cancer treatment, pursuant to one of the many mean-spirited policies it loves so much. Premier Wall said that the province would pick up the tab for the treatment. As reported in the Huffington Post and elsewhere, the Premier said, "It's unbelievable that some of the decisions that have been taken federally are having this impact on people who are clearly the most vulnerable, refugees who are obviously fleeing something quite terrible ... "
Our Premier affirmed that providing medical care to someone in these circumstances is "kind of a basic Canadian value."
I'll drink to that.