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New era for liquor regulation enforcement

During the last month or so, Whistler’s licensed premises have been seeing much more of the Liquor Control Board officer, and some say his actions have been carried out with a chip on his shoulder.

During the last month or so, Whistler’s licensed premises have been seeing much more of the Liquor Control Board officer, and some say his actions have been carried out with a chip on his shoulder. But none of the people who made the comments were prepared to be quoted for this article.

The reality is, liquor inspector Alan Andrews was in the middle of a competition held by the B.C. Liquor Control Board to see who would get the job in this end of the Sea to Sky corridor. After February, 2001, there will be a full-time liquor inspector stationed at a new control board branch in Squamish – the first time there’s been an office closer than North Vancouver.

Comments from Whistler bar and club managers about these changes included "Whistler does things its own way" and "it’s about time." But there was one consistent theme: People better get used to it.

Creekside restaurateur and pub owner Ron Hosner is a member of the Whistler Liquor Licence Advisory Committee, created two years ago to help with pending changes in provincial liquor laws and to monitor licensing in Whistler. Hosner was one of two bar or pub owners who went on the record, but in his case it was more in his capacity as committee member than pub owner.

"There should be a level playing field," Hosner said. "I don’t know why anybody’s complaining. We all know what the rules are. But the liquor board has done a terrible job in the past so they’re partly to blame. The inconsistencies are terrible. And I mean everywhere I’ve been in B.C. But the rules are there and we should abide by them.

"There are restaurants in Whistler trying to be a bar," Hosner continued. "And they can let under 19 year olds in. I can assure you bars don’t want restaurants being bars. So they get the best of both worlds."

Sheldon Payton, the regional director for the B.C. Liquor Control Board, says the current inspector in Whistler, Andrews, is actually an auxiliary officer who was in competition for the job. Andrews was on a training assignment and was not available for comment this week.

"There was an extended amount of time that we didn’t have an inspector in Whistler," Payton said. "Actually we did have a guy there that lived in Whistler, before Alan came in. Either way, you’re going to see more of him (in Whistler) in 2001. He’ll have a higher profile because the permanent officer will be out of Squamish."

Payton said two issues have historically prevented more frequent appearances by liquor inspectors in Whistler. The first is officers have always been stationed in the Lower Mainland and therefore have made only occasional trips to Whistler; the second is officers have been deluged with licensing issues rather than enforcement and compliance.

The latter of these is the most sensitive in Whistler, where bar managers routinely make the most out of an evening when they see a chance to make money, therefore overcrowding the premises.

"There’s a general concern from the RCMP in Whistler about more enforcement," Payton explained. "I do think there’s some resistance to us. But maybe we’ll have to work with the (pubs and clubs) more. I do realize that at peak times when they’re busy, there is a greater challenge for licensees. But we’re fulfilling the needs and requests of the municipality."

It was more than two years ago when the RMOW’s planning department met with the Liquor Control Board, RCMP, the fire department, the Whistler Food and Beverage Association, and bar staff. Issues such as over crowding, over serving, minors in bars and a variety of other topics were discussed. What is happening now, Payton said, is a result of that meeting. The problem is, local bar operators were not expecting such a dramatic enforcement of rules that have previously been flexible.

But contrary to Payton’s suggestion that RCMP requested the liquor inspector’s presence in Whistler, Const. Ray Bernoties says the Whistler RCMP’s relationship with the licensed clubs is a good one.

"On occasion I’ve noticed over crowding and I’ll say something," Bernoties said. "And maybe I’ll go as far as a giving them what we call a bar-slip, which is a warning. But it’s not so much that Whistler is worse than any other municipality. We have met with bars and had pro-active meetings and I think we have a good relationship. But we don’t want over crowding to be a routine thing. Whistler is no different from any other place in B.C."

Unlike most of the RCMP who are assigned to work in Whistler, Bernoties says he "begged to work here." And he says he encourages people to come to Whistler and have a good time. However…

"Just because a bar is only busy two nights of the week doesn’t mean they can over crowd it because they need those customers," Bernoties said.

Dale Schweighardt, president of the food and beverage association and manager of Buffalo Bill’s Bar & Grill, says he’s had more than a few "walk-throughs" from Andrews, but he reckons it’s mostly because Buffalo Bill’s is a very busy bar. Schweighardt says it’s something everybody in Whistler should expect now that a full-time liquor inspector is a reality.

"I think the whole community has got an eye-opener," Scwheighardt said. "He could be here everyday. The new Liquor Act that’s coming out means they’re sending a message that they’re going to enforce it. He’s working to enforce a level playing field and he’s done his research."

One occasion during the last few weeks had a longer than usual line-up at Buffalo Bill’s at 10 p.m. Schweighardt said it was a direct result of enforcement from the liquor inspector.

"I don’t mind it really. I like it when there’s less of a crowd in here. In the past, bars have been left to police themselves. Enforcement doesn’t bother me. Anyway, we’ve applied for an extension in seating under the DFO (Designated Food Optional)," Schweighardt explained. "When you have a restaurant in your bar, that gives you a number of seats where customers can order a drink without ordering food."

Schweighardt says under the new liquor laws, proposed in last year’s Surich Report, pubs and clubs will be able to increase seating by 50 per cent, to a maximum of 350 seats, provided the increase doesn’t exceed the fire department’s determination of building capacity. For example, if the licensed seats in Buffalo Bill’s is 225, they would shoot straight up to 325 seats, if the building’s fire exits could accommodate that total. "It would affect us greatly," Schweighardt said.

Chris Bishop, planning analyst with the RMOW and a member of the Liquor Licence Advisory Committee, says more than capacity problems and over-service were discussed at the meeting two years ago. He says there was as much emphasis on watering down drinks as anything else that was discussed.

"The meeting was capacity, minors, over-service, watering down drinks… and this was way before the Surich report," Bishop said. "We’ve told the liquor license (board) that we wanted an inspector here full-time. And one of those reasons is for safety. Council’s obviously been apprised of (the liquor law) changes at the provincial level. That’s the intention of having a full-time inspector in Squamish," Bishop said.

"You have to keep in mind that they’re just doing their job."

Editor’s note: It would be easy to get a photo of an overcrowded bar. Also, sidebar on Buffalo Bill’s door man "training session" is coming.