Opinion » Editorial


Rumours — unconfirmed as of our press time on Wednesday — suggest Joe Sturich’s review of provincial liquor laws may hold some interest for Whistler. Specifically, the word is that Sturich will recommend Whistler’s liquor stores be allowed to open on Sundays, on a trial basis. The review is also expected to recommend entertainment be allowed in restaurants and restaurants be allowed to serve liquor without food to a few designated seats. B.C.’s stringent liquor laws and complicated liquor licensing system, with 11 different licences, are overdue for a review. For years the provincial government has tried, and failed, to keep up with changes in the food and beverage industry by creating new licences every time an innovative restaurant or liquor selling concept came along. The latest proposal, a K licence, will be for casinos. The province is willing to look at streamlining the liquor licensing process and updating some liquor laws, finally, but it is not about to loosen its reins on booze — there’s too much money to be made. Hence the province remains as a middle man, distributing all liquor throughout the province. Whistler has a bit of a history of being a test case for new liquor laws. Whistler was one of three areas where pubs were allowed to open on Sundays on a trial basis, before Sunday openings were allowed across the province. When the provincial government finally started licensing privately owned beer and wine stores, nearly 20 years ago, these owners quickly discovered a market the provincial liquor stores had long ignored, liquor sales on Sundays. Now, after the private sector has spent nearly two decades serving this market the province wants a piece of it, and Whistler’s beer and wine stores may be the first to see Victoria cut into their business. As for proposals to allow entertainment in restaurants and alcohol to be served without food, the whole process illustrates how flawed B.C.’s licensing system is. Victoria’s tortured definition of "a meal" has been well documented, but what about the definition of a restaurant? It’s changing, evolving as entrepreneurs create and the public comes to expect entertainment as part of a dining package. Entertainment may be only television, as is the case at Planet Hollywood and Hooters, or it could be theatre, games or interactive adventures. Are these types of places restaurants, cabarets, bars? Does it matter what we call them? And should they have to conform to liquor laws or should the laws be reformed to reflect the reality of today? Finally, there’s the argument that restaurants will automatically become bars if they are allowed to serve alcohol without also serving a meal. It’s unlikely people are going to go to the Rim Rock Cafe, Val d’Isere or La Rúa just to knock back a bunch of drinks. These are restaurants of the highest standards, restaurants which want to be restaurants and not taverns. It would seem to be the less expensive restaurants that are more likely to provide competition for bars and pubs if they are allowed to serve alcohol without meals. But bars and pubs are allowed to serve meals without alcohol. Is one so different from the other that separate licences and legal definitions are required? The province’s outdated liquor laws have created an unnecessary, overly bureaucratic hierarchy of liquor licences. Mr. Sturich’s review may bring some streamlining to the whole process, but behind any changes is a provincial government looking to maintain or increase its share of the pie.

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