Council against food-primary changes 

Liquor review proposes measure to allow restaurants to transition to liquor primary outlets at night

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While council welcomed the majority of the changes proposed to B.C.'s liquor legislation, officials plan to voice their concerns to the province over a recommendation to let restaurants transition to a liquor primary establishment at night.

The province recently undertook the first major review of B.C.'s liquor policies since 1999, a process that Whistler leaders played a major role in. Many of the municipality's recommendations were included in Minister John Yap's report, but one recommendation in particular raised eyebrows among council.

During the province's extensive consultation with local government during the review process, municipal staff asked Victoria to maintain the distinction between liquor primary licenses for bars, nightclubs and pubs and food primary licenses. Yap's report instead included a recommendation to allow restaurants and other food primary licensed establishments to apply for an endorsement to transition to a liquor primary establishment after the suggested hour of 9 p.m.

"We have 13,000 restaurant seats in Whistler," explained RMOW planner Frank Savage in a presentation to council Tuesday, Feb. 18. "The potential for a significant number of these to transition to being a liquor primary-type establishment where the focus is away from food could have some potential impacts on our resort community."

While the province has committed to consultation with local government and residents as part of an application to transition to a liquor primary establishment, Savage said it's unclear if council will have any say in the ultimate decision to approve such an endorsement. Currently, elected officials have final approval of additional liquor primary seats in the community.

"If the province is making decisions about what moves from food primary to liquor primary we might disturb the mix of what's going on here and (provincial officials) don't have the same interest in the total guest experience, and they might misinterpret what the guest experience is needed versus what the reality is," said Councillor Andrée Janyk. "It is in fact through our research with Tourism Whistler that we understand what the guests and tourists want, including the locals."

More than consultation, said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, council wants full authority over the granting of an endorsement to transition from a food primary to a liquor primary establishment. She requested staff draft a letter to Victoria to ask for the inclusion of such a measure before implementation of the new liquor legislation is made. The B.C. government has not indicated when the implementation of the new liquor policy recommendations would begin.

RMOW staff also raised a red flag over a separate recommendation included in the report that would permit time-limited drink specials, or happy hours, in B.C.

"That again could be a concern if there's discounted pricing of liquor and potential impacts with all the licensed seats we have in the municipality, particularly in the village," Savage said.

Based on Whistler's involvement in the most recent liquor policy reform, it's likely the RMOW will have the ear of provincial officials moving forward. Whistler is one of 10 local governments in the Union of B.C. Municipalities Liquor Policy Working Group that provided extensive feedback to the province throughout the review process.

Much of Whistler's input to the province, including the easing of liquor service restrictions at major outdoor events, and allowing event promoters to apply for Special Occasion Licenses, were included with the 73 recommendations in the recent review.

"These changes are long overdue, for the most part excellent and will improve the guest experience here in Whistler," Wilhelm-Morden said. "I said way back when... that I didn't want this council to be defined by leading the charge on changes to liquor legislation, but at the end of the day it's terrific that we did take the initiative with our partners in the corridor and that we've seen some great results."

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