British Columbia will become the final province in the country to allow happy hour, the latest in a string of liquor-policy changes as the Liberal government tries to unshackle itself from near-century-old legislation.
Premier Christy Clark announced the latest changes – which will also allow minors to enter and eat at pubs and legions, provided they are accompanied by a parent or guardian – during a news conference Tuesday in Vancouver. It was her second liquor-policy announcement in less than a week and more could be on the way, as dozens of recommendations from the government’s alcohol review remain unaddressed.
Tuesday’s announcement came as welcome news to restaurant associations and individual establishments that had pushed for change – though an addictions expert predicted there would be a net increase in liquor consumption and harm.
Ms. Clark told reporters B.C.’s liquor laws are “antiquated” and said consumers want choice and convenience. The Government Liquor Act was passed in 1921, after the province’s four-year prohibition.
“People told us that they wanted change and we are listening,” the Premier said, speaking at a downtown Cactus Club.
Ms. Clark said families should have the choice of dining together at their local pub, and soon will. The Premier brought in happy hour by saying drink prices would be able to change during the day, but minimum prices would be set.
In all, she announced her government’s support for eight measures Tuesday. They include expanding and enhancing Serving it Right, the province’s responsible-beverage service program. Staff in restaurants and stores that sell liquor who do not already have Serving it Right certification will be required to obtain it.
The province will also make it so patrons who order a drink in a restaurant lounge are allowed to carry it with them to a different section, and ensure customers who do not wish to order food in food-primary businesses aren’t obligated to do so.
The government’s liquor-policy review, which Ms. Clark called the largest public consultation in the province’s history, was led by parliamentary secretary John Yap. He made more than 70 recommendations in his report, which will not be publicly released until February.
Last week, Ms. Clark announced her government’s support for 12 of the recommendations, which were largely aimed at improving public access to B.C. wine.
After she spoke Tuesday, Mark von Schellwitz, Western Canada vice-president for the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, called the announcement excellent news for the industry. He said the changes would simplify licensing and give restaurants and pubs more options.
The B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association and the Royal Canadian Legion B.C./Yukon Command also expressed their support.
However, Tim Stockwell, director of the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C., said there would be some negative effects from the changes.
“There’s a sense in which everybody is in favour of happy hours, but they don’t, unfortunately, only bring happiness,” he said, adding such deals can make it easy for patrons to go from one cheap promotion to the next, causing mayhem along the way, increasing policing and health costs.
Mr. Stockwell said he did not take issue with allowing children to eat at pubs or legions, and said the fact government is putting a minimum price on happy-hour drinks and enhancing Serving it Right shows they are at least somewhat listening to health advocates.
But he said health advocates have been backed into a corner where they’re seen as being in favour of antiquated rules and against happiness.
“The net effect will be more consumption, more alcohol-related deaths, injuries, and illness, but there will be more convenience.”