Hopefully you will forgive me, but it was only over the last few days that I learned that the world of ordering a pint in a bar in Canada has been turned upside down. With the coming into force of the Fairness at the Pumps Act in August, the federal government is now prepared to forcefully defend our right to get a full pint when we order, well, a pint. Look out you scofflaw publicans! Just dare to offer a short pour and watch the federal government sweep in and swiftly set you straight!
Finally! I have complained about serving sizes for years (see here for example).
Or at least that is the case if you believe the Conservative government press releases on the matter. They do have a tendency to over-sell their achievements these days. But there may still be something to it.
Briefly, the government has enacted a set of amendments giving it more power to ensure consumers get the full volume/weight of what they purchase. The primary purpose of the new regulations are dealing with gasoline pumps and electricity meters, but they do also amend the Weights and Measures Act, meaning the new rules extend to firewood, retail food and (drumroll) beer.
I have read the Act and nowhere do the words “beer”, “pint” or “scofflaw” (unfortunately, as it is a rather good word) appear in the text. Nothing has changed in the definition of a pint, which remains 568 ml. Beer serving sizes are not being regulated (as they are in the U.K.); pubs can still sell beer in whatever portion they desire.
All the new rules do is provide the government with new powers to enforce what happens when a pub sells you a “pint” of beer. They have new inspection authority and can impose penalties on any bar found breaching the rules. The press releases will tell you that they can be fined up to $50,000, but you and I both know that is an virtually impossible outcome for shortpouring beer. A more likely (yet still remote, keep reading) possibility is a $2000 fine. They have even set up an easy online complaint system through which to snitch on that cheap barkeep.
Sounds great, right? Finally a way to do away with the dreaded U.S. pint glass in bars. Well, ahem, not really, I am afraid. In the end not much really changes.
There are three shortcomings to the new rules. First, they only apply if a bar advertises that it sells a “pint”. If they call it something else, or if they say straight up they are serving you 454 ml (16 oz.), then there is nothing anyone can do except grumble about the missing 124 ml or try to finagle a couple of free samples to make up the difference. Now, the practice of the selling an “industry pint” or “American pint” fit into a grey zone and may have to be dropped in favour of something more accurate. But that is a pretty minimal issue.
Second, as with much legislation, the devil is in the inspection resources. How many inspectors do you think the government is going to hire to check out the size of beer glasses in bars, or the accuracy of fruit scales in grocery stores for that matter? Yeah, not many. Which means you can file a complaint, but good luck getting any real response to that complaint. And the odds of an actual fine being imposed? Highly doubtful. The Act is full of intermediate steps that allow the company violating the rules to get into compliance penalty-free.
Also, don’t forget the measurement does not include foam, and the pub is given a 14 ml “limit of error”, meaning they can legally serve you 554 ml “by accident”.
Third what will be the real outcome of all this? Will pubs swap out their 16 oz. glasses for new 20 oz. glasses? No. They will alter their menu and advertising to drop the word “pint” and keep the glasses. Now, maybe that is a small victory. I hate the ads for “X Dollar Pints of X Crappy Lager”, knowing full well those places are selling 16 oz. pints. Before they were still officially in non-compliance but there was nothing anybody could do about it. At least now there is the possibility of someone giving them a hard time about it, which might be enough to get them to abandon the practice, although I acknowledge “X Dollar 16oz. Glasses of X Crappy Lager” is not as smooth.
The issues is that only the provinces can regulate the serving size of beer. The Federal government an do little. Alas, the new rules, much trumpeted by the hyperbolic Tories, amount to little. The new rules are all foam, no beer, I am afraid.