CITY CELLAR: Kurtis Kolt states his case for B.C. liquor licence reform
It seems as though we’re at a bit of a tipping point in regard to the ongoing push for liquor law reform in British Columbia. Those following East Vancouver’s Rio Theatre’s recent tussle with the provincial government over the inability to show movies as a licensed premises (while similar venues with identical services and licences have never had a problem) have been exposed to a system that is long overdue for major overhaul.
There are many aspects of current provincial regulation that are in desperate need of change, and while those of us at the frontlines have been calling on the province for legal amendments for years to no avail, it looks as though the City of Vancouver has our back on these issues and can be more instrumental than many realized.
The city stepped into the ring on behalf the Rio, calling on the province to update the existing law that says liquor cannot be served in venues that show movies. Once Mines and Energy Minister Rich Coleman took the reins of liquor regulation from Solicitor-General Shirley Bond last week, the law literally changed overnight.
I could fill a year’s worth of columns with my wish list for liquor law reform, everything from adjusting the 123 per cent import tax that currently results in us having the highest wine prices on the continent to allowing B.Y.O. wine for a corkage fee in restaurants to permitting wine on grocery store shelves. Realistically though, there are a few simpler changes that I would like to see the City of Vancouver press the B.C. government for, issues that are of immediate concern and would support businesses big and small, drive more provincial revenue and put us closer in step socially and culturally with other major cities around the world.
Implement wholesale discounts for alcohol
If a bottle of Cabernet is $19.99 on government liquor store (BCLDB) shelves, then that is the same price restaurants pay for it to put it on their wine list. This is the key reason mark-ups are so high in restaurants and the cause of further disparity between wine prices here and other major cities. Private wine stores, who have to buy their liquor from the BCLDB just like everyone else, get either a 30 per cent or 16 per cent discount dependant on their licence. A logical, simple improvement would be to impose a flat wholesale discount of beer, wine and spirits (similar to the Californian model) that would apply to any venue purchasing alcohol for re-sale. It would increase fairness across the board and ideally open up the (currently illegal) option of restaurants buying wine from private stores, supporting both those stores and the BCLDB who sell them the product in the first place. The government wouldn’t lose a dime and it would ease operating costs of small business and lighten the tab at the end of a meal, encouraging more consumer spending.
According to current law, catering companies cannot take out Special Occasion Licences for their clients, nor can they purchase or transport liquor for events. According to Tourism Vancouver, Tourism Victoria and Tourism Whistler, B.C. consequently loses out on many potential national and international conferences due to it being incredibly problematic for companies to organise the liquor aspect of their event in advance of their arrival. Millions of dollars of potential revenue, tax and otherwise, is lost because of this. An easy issue to rectify.
Re-examine applicant requirements for Special Occasion Licences
One of many examples: Until recently, a colleague had obtained Special Occasion Licenses every couple of months to present educational diploma-level seminars in conjunction with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust of London, the most highly-regarded wine education organisation on the planet. These seminars recently got shut down, being told that Special Occasion Licences can no longer be issued if a business gains income from an event in any capacity. A frustrating, socially-paralyzing precedent. There’s much more opportunity for revenue and control with mild change to regulation.
These are what I believe to be three of the most pressing issues we face, ones that keep Vancouver from being in social and economic step with other great cities of the world. Let’s support and encourage the province to implement liquor law reform, and encourage the City of Vancouver to keep up the pressure.