The B.C. government is asking the public for ideas before it brings in a new liquor act next spring.
In an interview Wednesday, Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said she wanted a flexible act that would more easily accommodate changes in society around liquor and alcohol. To that end, most of the content of the legislation will be regulations.
The sweeping approach will lead to a defining policy change by next spring. The effort – which includes a website launching in September where the public can offer ideas – is a big shift in tactics from the incremental policy announcements under Rich Coleman, Deputy Premier and Natural Gas Development Minister.
Since the provincial election in May, Mr. Coleman has been shifted into other files. John Yap, the parliamentary secretary for liquor policy reform, is now handling the file under Ms. Anton.
Ms. Anton said Mr. Coleman was limited in the past by “cumbersome” legislation.
On Wednesday, the government said it’s looking to British Columbians for their ideas on “practical” changes to “outdated” liquor laws that juggle the priorities of consumer convenience, economic growth and public safety.
“Everybody who has an opinion on liquor, which is just about everybody, will be invited to weigh in on the website and say what they would like to see in the new liquor act,” Ms. Anton said.
Letters are being sent to 10,000 liquor licensees and liquor agency stores ahead of meetings with police, health and social policy associations, local governments, industry and other parties.
The latest review is to consider all aspect of liquor policy including control, licensing and distribution by the Liquor Distribution Branch. However, terms of reference include ensuring government revenue is maintained or increased and minimizing social harms caused by liquor.
“As the minister responsible for public safety, I always have to be balancing use and misuse and there’s no question there are harms that come from alcohol – drinking and driving, alcohol abuse – so those are all things that have to be considered as well,” Ms. Anton said.
Mr. Yap is supposed to file a report to Ms. Anton by Nov. 25.
Under Mr. Coleman, changes included allowing multiplex theatres to serve liquor in adult-only auditoriums, allowing restaurant customers to bring their own wine into licensed establishments, and allowing brewers and distillers to operate on-site lounges or tasting rooms.
He has said many laws were old and had to be scrapped and regulation modernized.
The B.C. NDP has been supportive of change, but wary about Mr. Coleman’s approach, suggesting it lacked focus.
“Mr. Coleman just kind of did everything himself by the seat of his pants,” said Shane Simpson, the NDP critic for liquor modernization. “Prior to this it has more been a series of one offs.”
Now he said it appears the Liberals want some form of “coherent” process of reform leading to a legislative package.
However, the critic said he was skeptical about a website allowing the public authentic opportunities for engagement. He called for joint public consultations with local government, which has a large stake in the issue.
Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, has been supportive of Mr. Coleman and the Liberals.
He said Mr. Coleman has taken a “first aid” approach to liquor reform, but the government appears to have shifted to a holistic approach now.
“They’ve set the course to have a wide-open discussion. This allows everybody to open it up. It’s full throttle.”