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No beer at Olympic Plaza for first festival

Whistler looks to province to review liquor rules, lawyer looks to judge



Despite the political handwringing, the last-ditch phone calls and letters to the province, there will be no booze served at Whistler Olympic Plaza during the first jazz festival in the resort.

But changes are on the horizon if festival organizer and lawyer Arnold Schwisberg has anything to say about it.

And he does.

Even if it means going before a judge to have the recent Liquor Control and Licensing Branch's (LCLB) decision declared a "reviewable error," Schwisberg is on the warpath for change.

"In my opinion that is the only way to achieve concrete change and anything else is spinning wheels," said Schwisberg.

The LCLB denied JOMAW's request for "stadium licensing" at the festival, only allowing a "beer garden" on the edge of the plaza. A stadium license would have allowed all jazz patrons, young and old, to mix together in a licensed, roped-off, ticketed venue.

In a way it was a test case for Whistler. JOMAW is the first ticketed festival at the brand new Whistler Olympic Plaza and a barometer for future festivals and events, a side of the resort business that the municipality is pouring millions of dollars into over the next five years.

"This is something that opens the Whistler community for being a signature destination for cultural reasons," said Schwisberg of his festival.

So he intends to get a petition before a judge by mid to late October and pave the way for booze sales at next year's festival. In the meantime, he has the 2011 festival to put on and he doesn't want this last minute upset to eclipse the music, the likes of which he said Whistler has never seen before.

In the wake of the LCLB's August decision, which seemed to take everyone by surprise, Whistler council made a special resolution at the meeting on August 23 rd to contact provincial ministries in the hopes of appealing the decision.

That last-ditch effort has proven fruitless.

Mayor Ken Melamed requested a call with the Solicitor General last week.

The deputy general manager of licensing for the LCLB Cheryl Caldwell returned his call.

He was told that the scope of JOMAW's request is outside of what LCLB allows and so they were not prepared to approve it. Nor are they prepared to consider an appeal.

While that's not good news for the jazz festival, it has spurred on Whistler to spearhead change - particularly as it commits millions of provincial grant money into developing festivals and animation in the resort.

"So we'll take a longer term approach," said the mayor. "We understand the concern of JOMAW. We absolutely are willing to support the festival in whatever ways we can.

"We will be following up with a letter to the solicitor general requesting meetings and basically a review because it's not just this aspect of special occasion licensing that council was speaking to... but there are a number of other issues around liquor licensing in general."

Local MLA Joan McIntyre agrees with that sentiment. She too has been in touch with the Solicitor General's office.

"I think it's incumbent that we move with the times," said McIntyre.

"I think the fact that Ontario has done a review of their regulations and modernized some of their rules surrounding these types of things tells us it's time to do that review in British Columbia. So I'm optimistic..."

In June, Ontario updated its alcohol laws, changes that in part include removing barriers for special events and festivals. Now festivals and events can define an area larger than beer tents where people can walk around freely with drinks and local communities are free to customize the events to their needs.

Schwisberg was instrumental in bringing about those new liquor rules.

On Monday, Councillor Chris Quinlan, who is spearheading the issue at the council level, penned an email to McIntyre and other provincial ministries outlining Whistler's concerns.

"There is grave concern by the council... as well as our business community that the current policies and legislation fails to recognize the current reality of a modern society," wrote Quinlan. "In a phrase, both the industry and the communities of British Columbia have evolved and matured. The current policies and regulation have not kept pace with this growth."

There will be no beer garden at Olympic Plaza this weekend but that won't stop the non-stop line-up of jazz performances from taking centre stage at the new pavilion.

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