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Report recommends liquor sales in B.C. grocery stores

Full Liquor Policy Review expected for New Year release

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Following the province-wide Liquor Policy Review, Parliamentary Secretary John Yap is endorsing the sale of liquor in B.C. grocery stores.

Yap announced Thursday, Nov. 28 that he is recommending the government move forward on the development and implementation of a retail model that would meet consumer demands for wider accessibility, while maintaining a high standard of public safety. Yap's recommendation is consistent with the views of three quarters of the recently concluded review's respondents.

"During the B.C. Liquor Policy Review, I heard loud and clear that today's retail model has not kept pace with consumer expectations," Yap said in a release. "British Columbians lead busy lives and my final report makes several recommendations that will bring greater convenience to citizens, including moving to a model that will allow shoppers to pick up a bottle of wine or six-pack with their groceries."

The report recommends keeping the current cap on the total number of retail outlets in the province and separating liquor from grocery products, ensuring restricted access to liquor for minors.

"I also feel it is critical that government maintain the current cap on the number of retail outlets in the province." Yap said. "By doing this, and by keeping liquor separate from grocery products, we can increase convenience without any increased risk to the health or public safety of British Columbians."

Whistler’s acting mayor and council’s appointed representative on the municipal Liquor License Advisory Committee, John Grills, said while the suggested changes will certainly be convenient for consumers, they could have a significant impact on liquor store owners and staff.

"The government employees at the local liquor stores and staff at independent beer and wine stores would be very concerned for their jobs and their businesses," he said. "In the case of the private beer and wine stores, the government has the ability to adjust the discount they receive from the liquor distribution branch, and maybe that’s something that will come along with this to give them more of a chance of keeping their business models working."

Creekside Market owner Jerry Marsh feels it would be better if grocery and liquor stores remained separate, but admitted his store "would probably partake" in the new retail model if approved. He said the additional measures staff would be required to take to check ID for liquor sales would add another layer of inconvenience.

"It adds another avenue for us, as it is with cigarettes, to check for ID and puts more pressure on our staff, a lot of them are young kids, who have to take it upon themselves to ask their peers for ID," he said.

Having to cordon off retail space from grocery products to make space for alcohol would also be difficult for the Creekside store, Marsh said.

"It would certainly take a big chunk of our retail away," he noted. "You'd certainly have to crunch the numbers to see if it would be worth our while to take whatever space we'd need."

The Grocery Store owner Bob Adams echoed Marsh’s remarks, saying it doesn’t make sense for the size of his store, and also due to its proximity to a liquor store next door.

"I know a few people across Canada who have options to have liquor in their grocery stores, and the response is quite mixed," he added.

So public and private liquor stores have time to adapt to the proposed changes, Yap recommends the B.C. government adopt a phased implementation of the new retail model.

Whistler has been a leading advocate for updates to B.C.’s liquor policies in recent years, particularly surrounding existing laws that prevent the consumption of alcohol in the presence of minors. This year’s GranFondo race fueled Whistler’s pitch to the province for more lenient, festival-style liquor regulations, as adults were permitted to drink in front of minors during post-event festivities for the first time. The September event was a success, with no incidents to report, according to Whistler RCMP.

"Hopefully in the next six months, we’ll see a number of changes that make operating this resort easier and more competitive," Grills said.

The full report, which contains more than 70 recommendations, is expected for release to the public early in the New Year, with some individual recommendations to be released over the coming weeks.

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