The B.C. provincial Ministry of Justice began a review of B.C. liquor laws last week with a request for feedback from industry groups and stakeholders.
The province has already heard of some limitations the public feel should be addressed, including the following:
– not allowing minors that are accompanied by a parent or guardian into pubs that serve food during daytime hours.
– not allowing wines and other local liquors to be sold at farmers’ markets.
– taking upwards of a year to obtain a license for bars and pubs.
Laurel Dierdorf, manager of the Red Bridge Pub and the Keremeos Mountain Liquor Store, felt that allowing minors into pubs would be a bad idea.
“I’ve seen results of that policy, living at one time in a border town,” she said, “it’s a bad idea, based on what I’ve seen on the American side.”
Dierdorf had no opinion on the sale of wine or local liquor at farmers’ markets, and felt that a one year wait for a license for a bar or pub was not altogether unreasonable.
“I’d rather see it take a year in order for both parties to perform due diligence and do it right, than rush a license through,” she said, noting that in Keremeos there were a number of different governing bodies to satisy when applying for a license.
Dierdorf is concerned about the prospect of liquor kiosks in grocery stores, however, feeling that it would be much more difficult to prevent underage sales in such outlets.
“I’m not concerned that it would affect my livlihood,” she said, “ but in terms of safety of the community, I think it would be much easier for youth to purchase through a grocery or convenience store. If a group of kids stop at a liquor store and go inside to buy, it’s noticed. Their intent wouldn’t be anywhere near as obvious were that same group to park in front of a grocery store and go inside.”
Dierdorf’s concerns stem mainly from the difference in treatment the province gives to private liquor store owners over government operated stores. She said that it was unfair, for example, to heavily penalize privately held stores for underage sales, while the provincial stores didn’t suffer similar penalties.
“We (private stores) are not allowed to sell or transfer stock to ourselves,” Dierdorf explained, “so if we have a stock shortage at one of our stores, we’re powerless to resolve it, where the government stores have that ability.
We can’t move our inventory at all.”
She noted that Alberta allowed private stores that right.
“Another issue that I would like to see addressed regards special occasions licenses,” Dierdorf continued. “We donate items in support of local events when they host a beer gardens, but we aren’t allowed to supply them.
We don’t require certifed cheques, and we are more convenient,” she said. “We’re open on weekends and later in the evening, so if the event needs more product, we can supply it. We can also provide storage for the product until it’s used, and keep it cold. Public stores don’t necessarily keep the same hours or have that capability.”
The Ministry of Justice’s review will consist of two consultation phases. The initial phase, which also began last week, will consist of letters sent to stakeholders in B.C. requesting their feedback and ideas for change. Parliamentary Secretary for Liquor Policy Reform John Yap will then meet with groups from industry, local government, First Nations, police and health and safety associations.
Phase two will seek to engage the broader public through a policy review website to be launched in September. The policy review consultations are expected to be completed by October 31.
One of the terms of reference guiding the review specifies that government revenue is to be maintained or increased. Liquor sales account for over one billion dollars in net income each year for the province.