Restaurants looking for early change to liquor laws By Bob Barnett The B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association expects significant changes to provincial liquor laws from the current review, and they may happen early in the new year. "If the system is ever going to change, it’s going to change now," said Geoffrey Howes, vice president of government affairs with the BCRFA. Howes was in Whistler last week speaking to restaurateurs about the review being conducted by Jo Surich and what the BCRFA is pushing for. Specifically, the BCRFA wants laws changed so that restaurant patrons can order a drink without ordering a meal and so that restaurants can offer entertainment, other than "adult" entertainment. "We’re creating more options for people, not more opportunities to drink," Howes said. Under B.C.’s present system there are 10 types of liquor licences. All but the hotel A licence have restrictions. The A licence had its origin in the 1950s, when Premier WAC Bennett encouraged hotel development as part of a plan to open up the province. Since then new classes of licences have been created as the market has evolved, but each new licence and each new variance has added to the bureaucracy. As a result, B.C. has a series of licences — B through J — which have various restrictions while the unrestricted A licences have grown in value. Howes expects considerable opposition to changes in the liquor laws from the hotel association. "In a sense, the hotels have everything to lose and nothing to gain," Howes said of the liquor review. "The value of pub and A licences is very high, but that’s because of the system that’s built up. The government doesn’t believe it has an obligation to maintain a system that maintains that value." Howes said the licensing system simply hasn’t kept up with changes in the restaurant industry. Last year, when Planet Hollywood opened in Vancouver, there was considerable debate about the fact a restaurant liquor licence prohibits any form of entertainment, including television. Planet Hollywood eventually received a variance, allowing the restaurant chain to keep its televisions. Hooters also received a variance for its televisions. However, entertainment in restaurants is growing around the world and taking on new forms, including internet terminals. Mountain World is a local example of a business that includes a restaurant and entertainment, but under the present laws there is no crossover between the restaurant and the games. Patrons are either in the restaurant or in the games area. Some parts of the current liquor laws, including allowing entertainment in restaurants, can be changed without re-drafting legislation, Howes said. He is therefore hopeful that some changes can be made early in the new year, before the legislature is recalled for its spring sitting. Howes believes the present NDP government is serious about changing liquor laws. He noted Finance Minister Joy MacPhail and Tourism Minister Ian Waddell have both gone on record as being in favour of cutting red tape that is hindering the tourism industry. The Liberals, Howes said, are "entrenched" with the hotel group. As well as government support, the BCRFA’s own polling shows 80 per cent public support for change.