BC government accepts recommendations from liquor policy review

Some changes to come as early as this summer

By Patrick Vaillancourt, News Editor

Changes to British Columbia’s liquor laws could be coming as early as this summer, as the government has accepted all 73 recommendations from a liquor policy review process.

Provincial Justice Minister Suzanne Anton has accepted all of the recommendations made through the open consultation and review process, which included an online forum through which BC residents could submit their ideas.

There are a total of 73 recommendations made to the provincial cabinet, and the government has said that some of them require simple regulatory changes which could be made by the summer. Others, such as the introduction of “happy hours”—which have been banned throughout the province—may require legislation that will take some more time.

Some of the changes expected to be made in time for the busy summer tourist season include expanding drink selections at public venues, doing away with gated beer gardens at festivals, and allowing children to enter the beer gardens with their parents.

“At family-friendly events, like most music festivals, for example, parents should be able to wander the grounds with their kids and watch the band rather than be caged off in the corner just so they can enjoy a pint,” said Minister Anton.

The most popular change reported by the government was the public’s desire to purchase alcohol in BC grocery stores, a policy already in place in Quebec. Anton says that a model that makes this feasible includes liquor stores to be allowed to operate within major grocery chains like Safeway.

NDP liquor critic, Shane Simpson, is skeptical of the “store within a store” model.

“If you have a liquor store next door to a Safeway or a Save-on-Foods—a 3,000- or 4,000-square foot liquor store in the same mall—are you going to give that up to put a kiosk that might be 500-square feet inside that food retailer? It doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

Anton said that there were a lot of changes being brought forward and that it will not be a quick process. Anton added that some of the recommendations being brought forward will require “more extended policy development.”

People responsible for organizing special events and festivals throughout the province are also toasting the provincial government’s plan to streamline liquor licence applications for special events and festivals. The BC Liquor Branch receives upward of 25,000 applications for special occasion licences every year, a process which is often rife with bureaucratic delays.

“It’s a process that’s become riddled with red tape,” Anton said.

Initial plans are to move licence applications online and create single licences for multi-day events. Under the current system, a multiple-day liquor-serving event would require a licence application for each day of the event.

While the government says that changes to liquor policies in the province are meant to keep the public safe, some BC residents are critical of the more family-oriented changes to liquor laws, such as allowing children into bars under the supervision of their parent or guardian.

This is the first major overhaul of British Columbia’s liquor policy regime since the early 1990s and is expected to receive widespread support throughout the province given the government’s inclusive consultation process on the issue.