Premier Christy Clark says she is determined to see beer and wine sold in B.C. grocery stores, but her cabinet is working through how to enact the policy.
“We need to find a way to do it, but I believe it can be done,” Ms. Clark told a news conference on Wednesday in West Kelowna.
She made the comments while announcing her government will enact 12 recommendations, largely about improving public access to B.C. wine, from a report on liquor and alcohol-policy reform that will serve as the foundation of government action in coming months.
As part of the confirmed reforms, the government will allow B.C. liquor manufacturers to offer products for sample and sale at such temporary, off-site retail locations as farmers markets.
The Premier said of the grocery-store option, “We’re continuing to talk about it.”
The grocery option was a high-profile recommendation in a wide-ranging review of liquor and alcohol policy conducted by parliamentary secretary John Yap. He recently submitted the report to Justice Minister Suzanne Anton.
Shane Simpson, the B.C. NDP liquor modernization critic, said he was exasperated with the Liberal government rolling out liquor reform in “dribs and drabs” so suggested the government table all its plans for reform.
Mr. Simpson also said in an interview that the Liberals should release Mr. Yap’s report so everyone can get a sense of the evidence that is driving the government’s approach. “There is no evidence at this point to support the decisions they are talking about,” he said.
The Premier acknowledged people might be alarmed by change ahead of seeing the final plan. “But change is coming,” she said. “People asked for change. Citizens asked for change. We want to deliver that in a way that gives more access to the public, protects public safety and also makes it possible for the small-business community that’s grown up in this valley and around the province in producing and distributing alcohol to thrive. It’s a difficult balance to find, but I think we can find it.”
Ms. Clark said putting B.C. wine in grocery stores would help promote the product. “There’s a lot of different examples around North America and around the world where they have done that in different ways. We can do this, I believe, in a way that’s going to increase sales for B.C. wine.”
Asked about concerns that broader access to alcohol would increase the number of impaired drivers, Ms. Clark said she is mindful of public safety, but also of the need to change “antiquated” century-old regulations.
“At the same time we recognize we want to protect public health and safety, we have to answer the public’s call for convenience. We’re trying to find a way to do that.”
Pressed on a timeline for action, Ms. Clark suggested change could come in the spring.
Policy changes announced Wednesday include allowing a winery to sell beer not produced on their site, and allowing “low-risk” tasting venues like a picnic area as part of their existing licence without applying for an extra one.
The government also wants to consult with the Agricultural Land Commission about amending commission act regulations to allow manufacturers operating in the Agricultural Land Reserve to let more people into consumption areas and sell liquor not produced on site.