B.C. liquor laws get another look

A glass of wine at the spa? A craft beer at the farmer's market? Can B.C. survive the next wave of modernization?

Wineries such as Nk'mip Cellars in Osoyoos can now get licences for tasting rooms

VICTORIA – A glass of wine at the spa? A craft beer at the farmer’s market? Can B.C. survive the next wave of modernization of its archaic liquor laws?

These suggestions are part of a review of liquor policy promised by the B.C. government in its February throne speech and rolled out Wednesday. Richmond MLA John Yap has been assigned to examine regulations that unnecessarily restrict business, making recommendations to the provincial cabinet by November.

One proposal is allowing under-aged children to have lunch at a pub with their parents during the day, as they can do in a licensed restaurant. As well as considering licences for farm markets and spas, the review is to look at why it takes up to a year to issue a liquor licence to a business.

Letters are going out to 10,000 licence holders and rural liquor agency stores looking for feedback, and a website for public comments is to be added in September.

Don’t expect a price break, however. The terms of the review include ensuring that the $1 billion annual government revenue from liquor sales and sales tax is maintained or increased. The review will not look at privatization of liquor distribution, a controversial suggestion the government backed away from last year.

Recent reforms in B.C. have included allowing people to bring their own wine to a restaurant, and removing restrictions on buying wine from another province for personal use. B.C. has yet to convince Ontario and other provinces to lift their protectionist wine rules.

On the enforcement side, last year B.C. increased its fine to $575 for bootlegging liquor to people under 19. Two years ago, legislation allowed liquor inspectors to employ minors to test liquor outlets’ willingness to check identification and refuse service.

A University of Victoria study released Wednesday called for B.C. to impose a minimum drink price of $1.50 on licensed establishments and charge higher prices for drinks with more alcohol, to discourage over-consumption.


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