Prohibition is coming to an end in Nova Scotia

Published September 14, 2018

The government of Nova Scotia has passed legislation to end the Prohibition-era requirement for communities to hold plebiscites to change their liquor rules. This will free restaurateurs from the constraints of more than 100 “dry” areas across the province, where the sale of alcohol is still prohibited. Under the Liquor Control Act, these communities must call for a vote when a business wants to make or serve alcohol.

Luc Erjavec, Restaurants Canada Vice President, Atlantic Canada, with Nova Scotia Finance Minister Karen Casey, prior to her announcement of the new legislation on Sept. 11.

As of Jan. 1, 2019, municipal governments will be able to quickly end their “dry” status if a brewery or liquor store wants to set up shop. Restaurants will no longer need to go through a public hearing to receive an Eating Establishment Liquor License, which permits the sale of alcohol with a meal, or a Lounge License, which permits the sale of alcohol without a meal.

Nova Scotia has long been the only province regulating where liquor can be sold or produced through provincial legislation. Other provinces rely on municipal zoning or bylaws to set those rules.

According to the Canadian Press, the list of communities still considered “dry” is based on an old map in a government office in Halifax that is supposed to show which ones are still subject to Prohibition. But since the names are so faded, the document is of little use. When an application is made for a rural liquor licence, research is often required to determine if the area is still dry, because the electoral boundaries have been redrawn many times over the years.

Since taverns were first legalized in Nova Scotia in 1948, more than 280 plebiscites have been held by the province’s alcohol and gaming division.

Recent plebiscites have had poor turnouts and have seen lopsided victories to end liquor restrictions. It has been two decades since any area voted against loosening liquor restrictions.

For more on this story, check out this report published by CTV News Atlantic: N.S. modernizing liquor laws, ending plebiscites for dry communities

Restaurants Canada has long lobbied for this change in Nova Scotia, in order to reduce barriers for businesses and better serve customers. This will also save taxpayers from having to pay for costly plebiscites to allow the sale of alcohol.

If you have any questions or concerns, you can send an email to Luc Erjavec, Restaurants Canada Vice President, Atlantic Canada, at


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