The B.C. government’s consultation on liquor reform has begun with a debate about allowing alcoholic beverage sales in grocery stores.
“I think it is long overdue and I really applaud the initiative. I think the last liquor reform was in the 80s and times have changed significantly,” said Christine Coletta, co-owner of Okanagan Crush Pad. “I’m hoping with that review there will be initiatives to help B.C. wineries continue to grow and thrive.”
Coletta said some of the changes she would like to see examined include secondary off-site winery shop licences. Currently wineries can have an onsite wine shop attached to their facility, but a secondary would allow standalone shops.
“Or, a group of wineries would work together for example in downtown Summerland. I think that would be a great plus for the wineries and a plus for some smaller communities that then could use that as a driver for tourism to specific areas in town,” she said.
Coletta said they need support from the government for the 240 wineries, and growing, in the province that not only drive tourism but employ many people. She is encouraging everyone to provide input to the government.
“The No. 1 thing is it all has to make sense to the consumer. We reply on them to buy our products whether we are a restaurant, winery, brewery or pub. This all has to benefit the consumer and we currently are in one of the most expensive liquor markets in the world,” said Coletta.
The B.C. government’s point man on liquor reform, Richmond-Steveston MLA John Yap, posted his own comments on the subject Monday. Yap warned that while opening up alcohol sales is a popular suggestion, “it certainly isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.”
Yap noted that beer, wine and spirits are already sold in rural grocery stores that are licensed because their service area isn’t big enough to warrant a government retail store. In urban areas, he questioned whether alcoholic beverages should be sold from convenience stores and gas stations, larger grocery stores, or big-box retailers.
“When this topic comes up in my meetings with health, safety and law-and-order advocates, the question will surely become that already we see 30 per cent of late-night attendees at a typical B.C. emergency department report alcohol consumption in the six hours prior to their injury or illness,” Yap said. “If we make it more available for the sake of convenience, will we see rates like this rise?”
The government is inviting public comments until Oct. 31 at the website, www.gov.bc.ca/liquorpolicyreview. The site also lists submissions from health care, police and alcoholic beverage industry representatives.
The current review continues a remake of B.C. liquor policy that began in 2002, when cold beer and wine stores were allowed to sell spirits, and a 10-year moratorium on new private store licences was lifted.
When the consultation was launched in August, Yap said licences for serving craft beer or local wine at farmers’ markets would be considered.
Pubs also want to allow under-aged children in with their parents for lunch, putting them on a level playing field with licensed restaurants.
-With files from Tom Fletcher