Changes are brewing for B.C. liquor laws
By Oona Woods
A task force is reviewing B.C. liquor laws but it may take a United Nations force to bring about agreement.
B.C.’s attorney general Ujjal Dosanjh announced last month that the government is seeking to cut red tape and streamline liquor laws in a fast track review in order to help out high growth industries like tourism and hospitality.
Jo Surich has been appointed to lead the review, which is expected to be completed at the end of January. The revised proposals, based on consensus, are scheduled to go before cabinet on Feb. 28, 1999.
Whereas Ontario only has one form of liquor licence and Alberta has just two, B.C. has 10. At this stage no one is clear on what exactly will change but some onlookers are hoping that the simplification will serve the public as well as service industry outlets.
Geoffrey Howes, the vice president of government affairs for the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservice Association, has been spearheading a campaign for a number of years to have the liquor regulations relaxed. Why?
"The reason is because of liquor laws and the complex licensing system. There are 10 different kinds of licence. This system from the 1950s just doesn’t work anymore. It’s a bad model, a poor foundation and now it is being built upon. If you add to it you’ll just make it worse. There are licences from A to J and now they are looking at a K licence. K for casino."
As the system stands right now each different licensed establishment, such as a restaurant, bar or hotel, has a different type of licence with different rules and regulations attached. Howes says these restrictions are too strict.
"The only licence that is unlimited is the hotel A licence. All of the rest have significant restrictions. The world doesn’t work like it did in the ’50s. You have places like Planet Hollywood, the Palladium or Mountain World that need 10 times more flexibility.
"In the ’50s if you wanted entertainment and a drink you could go to a hotel. If you’re out for a romantic dinner with your boyfriend or girlfriend you’d go to a restaurant where there would be no entertainment. If you want to drink and party you’d go to a cabaret (which aren’t allowed anymore). The D licence would be your neighbourhood pub. There were specific designations for different bars. But the world has changed. There is much more cross-over now."
Howes says the regulations that build up over each licence are creating all the red tape that the government is now looking to reduce.
"If I was sitting in a restaurant having a meal and you came by but you’d already eaten, it would be illegal for you to join me for a glass of wine. You would have to agree to have a meal before you could have a glass of wine. And then you get into this ludicrous definition of what constitutes a meal. We have been arguing for 20 years to come up with a definition for what is a meal."
Some people in the service industry feel that the relaxing of laws governing alcohol consumption without food in restaurants will create an overflow of bar-like establishments as restaurants morph into pubs. Whistler’s Ron Hosner, owner of Hoz’s in the Creekside which includes a cold beer and wine store as well as a pub and restaurant, but not a hotel, says he feels it could be seen as a social issue as well as a financial one.
"I have concerns over the value of a pub licence. You will lose 50 per cent of the value of your licence overnight if they allow restaurants to become pubs. If there is a pub on every corner there is no value in owning a pub... You can get hung up on semantics. If the restaurant licence allows service without food it’s like a pub. But children aren’t allowed into a pub whereas they can be in a restaurant. There are social issues here."
James Chase executive vice-president of the B.C. hoteliers association says he feels that on the whole the liquor laws are appropriate as they are.
"In a broad context we don’t feel that there is a lot wrong with them. There are some minor technical issues and red tape but all issues considered there is a very good balance between control and social issues."
Chase says that members of the hoteliers association have never brought any complaints forward with regard to existing liquor laws.
"I feel that once the regulations are analysed it may come out that they’re okay," continues Chase. "Maybe we have the best liquor laws in North America."
Howes responds to this attitude with the implication that this is because hotel licences are valuable as they are.
"They have a unique licence and they don’t want it diluted because it is so hard to get," says Howes of hotels’ A licence.
"The value of this special unique licence may go down... Every restaurant will not become a bar or a pub. Basically nothing much will change and the reason for that is that a lot of places are breaking the law anyway. The laws are out of step. All we want is entertainment allowed in restaurants and for customers to be able to go into a restaurant to have a drink. People should be allowed to go where they feel comfortable."