New liquor laws ‘put communities at risk’ 

Bar owners oppose regulations that allow ‘restaurants to become bars’

Three major hospitality organizations within B.C. have joined forces to oppose government changes to liquor regulations that they say would allow restaurants to become licensed as bars at night, and stay open just as late.

The new Hospitality Industry Coalition is comprised of the B.C. Liquor Licensee and Retailers Association, the B.C. Cabaret Owners’ Association and the B.C. and Yukon Hotels Association – which represents businesses with more than 50,000 employees. The say they are concerned that the changes which allow restaurants to serve alcohol without food will result in destructive competition that will put communities, public health and safety at risk.

"Imagine what it would be like if even half of the restaurants in your community suddenly became bars where untrained, often underage, staff are serving liquor," said Dave Crown, a spokesperson for the coalition, in a May 17 press release. "We say if restaurants want to act like bars then they should be forced to go through the same rigorous approval process that pubs, lounges and cabarets are subject to.

"We are not afraid of competition," he continued, "but if the government wants restaurants to act like bars then it should subject them to all the same rules and regulations other bars abide by, including community approval for licenses, majority age servers, and alcohol awareness training for all servers."

However, a coalition of restaurants say the bar owners are tilting at windmills. The restaurant people say most restaurants will remain restaurants and the owners have no intention of turning them into bars or staying open to 4 a.m.

Perry Kendall, the provincial health officer recently released his Public Health Approach to Alcohol Policy. The report favours a cautious approach and closely monitoring the new liquor laws.

Within the report are six measures to "ensure that the costs of increased alcohol sales do not exceed the benefits." Those measures are:

• Monitoring public health and safety impacts of policy changes;

• Increasing prevention programming with a focus on children and youth, and on modifying risky drinking behaviours;

• Rigorously monitoring and enforcing laws relating to sales to underage and intoxicated consumers;

• Enhancing the addictions treatment and rehabilitation system;

• Evaluating prevention policies and programs, with reduction of drinking-related harms as the main criterion of effectiveness;

• Involving public health experts in planning future changes to alcohol policy.

The government announced changes to provincial liquor laws on March 15. Among numerous provisions, the new laws would see the number of license categories reduced from 19 to just two, food primary and liquor primary.

Food Primary covers restaurants, dining rooms, cafés and other licensed venues that primarily focus on foods.

Like Liquor Primary licenses, restaurants could apply to be open as late as 4 a.m., provided that their municipal government approves those hours of operation. They can also hold both types of licenses, and switch from restaurants to bars after hours.

The new changes have been praised by many who felt that B.C.’s existing laws were too complex and out of step with the times.

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