Breaking the liquor policy ice

Op-eds Opinions

Dear British Columbia, let’s talk liquor. Heck, I couldn’t think of a friendlier topic. It’s there for you when you want to wind down from a hard day, when you want to get pumped for a big event, and when you want to break the ice. Ever bought someone a drink to start up a conversation?

A healthy conversation with your government has been underway about modernizing those pesky liquor laws. After 15 000 phone calls, emails, and tweets, B.C. Liberal MLA John Yap submitted a Liquor Policy Review Report recommending changes to existing provincial liquor laws. Almost one year after the report was released, we saw some of the changes this summer at music festivals, where brews are no longer confined to beverage gardens.

However, the star suggestion that nabbed everyone’s attention was Policy Recommendation no. 19: “The Province should develop and implement a retail model that meets consumer demands for more convenience by permitting the sale of liquor in grocery stores.”

Pinch me.

More than 75 per cent of the province approved of this recommendation and it received the most attention among the 73 recommendations on the review. Second came the introduction of happy hour specials. Let’s raise our glasses in celebration! This deserves a long awaited toast all across the province.

That is until you actually read the fine print.

It has been specified that liquor-slinging grocery stores must be at least 1 km away from any given liquor store. Less than 10 per cent of the grocery stores in the province actually fit this criteria. If any of these stores decide to sell liquor, the final hurdle they’d need to jump is that they’re required to build a “store within a store” to hold the booze, complete with separate tills and no-minors—effectively a liquor store within a grocery store. At least we’ve still got happy hour, right?

Policy Recommendation no. 16 reads: “[Legislation should] permit licensees to offer time-limited drink specials (e.g., happy hours), provided the price is not below a prescribed minimum consistent with those supported by health advocates.”

Seems reasonable enough, but the new minimums are so high that many pubs across the province had to raise, not lower, their prices. You read that right. The regular drink prices were hiked up to allow for the illusion that happy hour is special. This is where we all put our glasses down in disappointment of the premature celebration.
So, let me buy you a drink, British Columbia. We can invite MLA Yap and break it to him that this liquor policy review certainly hasn’t modernized us yet.