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Whistler taking liquor laws to UBCM

Council also approves a letter to liquor branch in support of change

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Whistler is championing the cause to have BC's cumbersome liquor laws revamped.

At Tuesday's meeting council voted unanimously to draft a resolution to be considered at the fall Union of B.C. Municipality's (UBCM) convention.

"We're still way behind the times, especially in a tourist resort where people are coming from all over the world with liquor licensing laws far more progressive than ours are," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who suggested taking the issue to UBCM, over and above staff's recommendation of writing a letter to the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB).

In order to get on the fall agenda, the resolution must be ready in the coming weeks.

"There are a lot of communities... that are having these same kind of issues," said the mayor.

But it has hit home in Whistler recently after several high profile festivals were unable to secure licenses for their events.

Case in point: September's GranFondo bike ride. Organizers were denied a Special Occasion License (SOL) and were only approved for a beer garden, effectively separating participants from their families.

Neil McKinnon, co-founder of GranFondo, was at this week's council, not to speak about SOL's, but to update council on the 2012 ride from Vancouver to Whistler.

From its inaugural year in 2010 the event has grown from about $1.1 million in direct and indirect economic benefit to the resort to $2.7 million last year. Riders increased from 4,000 to 7,000 in the same time frame.

McKinnon said this year they want to enhance the experience and the road capacity and entice participants to stay longer in the resort.

"We want to create more of a destination event," he told council.

That's the kind of business Whistler is looking for and it wants to ensure there are no roadblocks in the way.

Similarly, the organizer of the Jazz on the Mountain at Whistler (JOMAW) festival was also denied a license that would have allowed festivalgoers to purchase and consume alcohol throughout Whistler Olympic Plaza, allowing adults and minors to enjoy the show together. Instead Arnold Schwisberg was approved for a SOL that allowed for a much smaller fenced-in "beer garden" — not what he was looking for, and not in keeping with his cliental.

It's the increase in events and festivals like the GranFondo and JOMAW that has shone a spotlight on the issue said the mayor, making B.C. liquor restrictions that much more apparent.

Some of those restrictions include the requirement that private event organizers must submit an application for an SOL. They cannot ask catering companies or event planners to do it on their behalf.

Among staff's recommendations supported by council were:

• supporting the catering industry proposal to create a permanent liquor license for qualified commercial caterers,

• allowing caterers, event planners and businesses involved in events to be eligible for a Special Occasion License, and

• asking the LCLB to consider allowing people to walk around freely with a drink in areas where minors are present, for certain public SOL events with council and RCMP support.

Council asked staff to work with corridor partners in drafting the resolution, hoping a united front from the corridor will send a stronger message to the policy makers in Victoria.

Meanwhile, the province has contracted Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) to design recommendations for a Municipal Alcohol Policy. It will look at how alcohol usage is managed in municipal facilities from the Meadow Park Sports Centre to Whistler Olympic Plaza. WCSS will be meeting with stakeholders to gauge views on the issue and will use that feedback, as well as survey information, to develop the recommendations.

Council is not bound to adopt those recommendations.

To take part in the survey go to www.mywcss.org/map-survey.

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