Rural hotel group considering class-action lawsuit

A group of rural hotels are contemplating a class-action lawsuit against the Alberta government to seek compensation for losses they attribute to provincial smoking and drinking laws.

A group of rural hotels are contemplating a class-action lawsuit against the Alberta government to seek compensation for losses they attribute to provincial smoking and drinking laws.

John May, who manages the Bowden Hotel, said he’s looking for a lawyer to take on the case. He added that Rob Heerema, who owns the hotel, is contacting the owners of other hotels to gather support.

“The ones I’ve talked to, they all say, ‘Let’s do it.’

“We’re going to see what we can do from there.”

May told the Advocate in July that the Bowden Hotel’s bottom line has been hurt by the province’s prohibition of smoking in public places, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2008. It took a further hit in Sept. 1, 2012, when it became an offence in Alberta to drive with a blood-alcohol level over 0.05.

May estimated that his hotel’s revenues have dropped 50 per cent as a result. Other prospective members of a class action lawsuit are being asked to prepare an accounting of how their revenues have dropped since 2008.

Alberta’s non-smoking legislation hasn’t impacted hotels and related businesses in bigger cities, said May, because the municipal governments there passed their own bylaws prohibiting smoking in public places.

But he doesn’t think communities like Bowden would have done the same.

The province’s prohibition against driving with a blood-alcohol level between and 0.05 and 0.08 comes with a three-day licence suspension and a three-day vehicle impoundment for first-time offenders. May thinks that’s unfair — considering the legal limit under the Criminal Code of Canada is 0.08 — particularly in rural communities where there may not be public transit or affordable taxi service.

“If they want to come in and support my establishment, I’ll make sure they get home,” he said of his customers.

“I drive people all the time here. I’ve driven people to Penhold from here.”

May said he’s raised the issue with various government officials, including Hector Goudreau, MLA for Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley and chair of the rural caucus.

“He brought it up in the Legislature and at the caucus, and they don’t seem to want to hear about it.”

That’s forced the rural hotel operators to explore legal action, said May, although they recognize a quick fix is unlikely.

“This could take five, six, 10 years. Who knows?”

A spokesperson with Alberta Justice told the Advocate previously that the province won’t comment on the matter since legal action is pending.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com