News » Whistler

Pique'n Yer Interest

Loosen up, B.C.



I've lived in four provinces and spent at least a few days in nine of them. And I can say with relative confidence that B.C. is the lamest in Canada when it comes to its public policies on alcohol.

Let's push aside for a moment all of the evils that alcohol has aided and abetted in this world in the 10,000 or so years since our ancestors discovered the magic of fermentation. The closest I've ever come to death, falling from a moving freight train while jumping between boxcars, had a little something to do with what I was drinking that night. It's not something I would have attempted while sober.

But let's take the opposite tack instead and at least agree that prohibition doesn't work. It's been tried several times and it's always failed miserably - usually creating criminal enterprises in the process where there were none before.

People need their pressure valves and for that alcohol deserves a little credit for helping to maintain our collective happiness and sanity, and in some ways enhancing our enjoyment of life. It's hard to defend or glorify beer, wine and spirits when they're implicated in so much tragedy, but that's only because nobody ever talks about the good things; it's just not politically correct.

For example, how many of us are here today because alcohol gave our fathers the courage to talk to our mothers at that party where they met? How many of us met our significant others or bonded with close friends over a few drinks? How many great nights, with great friends and good conversation, were lubricated with alcohol? And how many of us can put an entire day of stress and worry behind us simply by popping a bottle cap?

That said, some people really shouldn't drink if they're prone to addiction, impulsive behaviour, violence or depression. But why are these issues treated as the norm for alcohol rather than the exception - and why does the exception prove the rule in this province? The vast majority of people are fine with a little alcohol, as long as they don't attempt to drive and don't overdo it to the point where they can't care for themselves. So why is this province bent on overstating the problem, branding all drinkers as sloppy, staggering dangers to themselves and society?

Obviously I'm talking about the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch's decision not to grant a special occasion licences (SOL) to Jazz on the Mountain at Whistler and the RBC GranFondo Whistler, as well as every single event in this town that has had its potential lessened by liquor laws they would laugh at in the rest of the country.

All these organizers wanted was a contained area where people could drink - and maybe choose wine or a cocktail instead of a beer or cooler - with a few minors present. It's really no different from what happens at the average wedding, or at the Canucks game or in any given backyard on a Saturday afternoon.

But, out of concern that a youth could obtain some alcohol at one of these events - and then proceed to crash a car, rape somebody or nearly die from alcohol poisoning (that's actually the BCLC's stated position) - the licences were refused.

It's ridiculous. Any kid at a jazz festival or road ride party is obviously going to be there with parents, and while some parents do tolerate teens drinking in moderation at home they would never permit it in public, or to the point of intoxication where any of the BCLC's concerns could be valid.

I've always believed we've treated alcohol the wrong way in Canada, and that we do more damage by elevating alcohol to "taboo" status. The truth is, kids will always get a hold of booze - always.

Given that reality, it's my view that kids should probably learn to drink responsibly, at home with a few glasses of wine or the occasional beer, with parents around to warn them of the dangers of binge drinking. There's a skill to drinking responsibly and I'd rather my own child learn it with me than through trial and error on her own at any age.

We should demystify it, take the romance out of it, shrug it off as something that people do sometimes. Teens may lack judgment but their bullshit detectors are very acute when it comes to propaganda on the evils of alcohol. "In Europe," a Croatian-Canadian friend of mine once observed, "beer is a drink. You might grab a Fanta at the bodega or you might grab a can of beer. It's no big deal. We're so immature about it."

At the Squamish Music Festival there were 16,000 concert-goers over two days and just five arrests involving people that drank too much. That's a rate of 0.03 per cent, a number that the province really should take into consideration.

The bottom line is that we have to get some sanity back into liquor licencing if we're serious about making B.C. a world-class international destination - or take special occasion licencing away from BCLC entirely and leave those decisions to municipal governments.

I'm not saying people can't have fun at the jazz festival or at GranFondo without alcohol, just that people should have the freedom to choose what kind of fun they'd like to have. We're all adults here. Right?