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Province to look at selling beer, wine in some grocery stores

The B.C. government will look at allowing sales of beer and wine in grocery stores, but if the plan goes ahead don’t expect super cheap deals on bottles of wine, like in the U.S. or Alberta. Parliamentary secretary for the B.C.

The B.C. government will look at allowing sales of beer and wine in grocery stores, but if the plan goes ahead don’t expect super cheap deals on bottles of wine, like in the U.S. or Alberta.

Parliamentary secretary for the B.C. Liquor Policy Review John Yap said the government will likely look at so-called “store within a store” models like in Ontario.

That means the Liquor Distribution Branch or current licensed wine and beer retail stores would be allowed to operate a business within a supermarket chain.

B.C. already allows independent grocery stores in rural areas to sell liquor, including spirits, beer, cider and wine.

Yap was at Canada Place on Tuesday to speak about some of the more popular ideas he’s heard from the public during the review process.

He said an overwhelming majority (80 per cent) of the comments so far during the 84 days of consultations with the public have been in support of selling beer and wine at grocery stores.

“The idea of selling beer and wine, particularly in grocery stores has been such a popular one, that we are going to start exploring which models work for B.C.,” said Yap, adding that the store within a store model could address concerns about whether minors would have easier access to alcohol if the large grocery chains were allowed to sell the products.

Although many of the comments have been from residents who want large grocery retailers like Safeway or Costco to sell beer and wine, Yap said authorities are trying to strike a balance.

“We recognize British Columbians want convenience and access that those other jurisdictions have,” he said. But we also have heard that we need to take a cautionary approach to the public safety and health.”

Residents can post their comments until midnight on Thursday to voice their ideas, either by leaving comments on the liquor policy review blog or on Twitter using the #bcliquor hashtag.

The Canadian Restaurant and Food Association has submitted eight recommendations to the review saying that B.C.’s liquor control system is out of date and needlessly complex.

Among the suggestions are to allow Happy Hour and introduce a flat-tax on wine and spirits which would lower liquor prices in licensed premises by 15 to 20 per cent. A flat tax would be based on the alcohol content in a bottle rather than the quality of the liquor.

B.C. is the only province in Canada that doesn’t allow licensees to change their prices during the course of a day, which nixes Happy Hour, a popular concept in cities all over the world that allows drinking establishments to offer cheaper drinks, usually around 5 p.m.

The recommendations are expected to be included in Yap’s report to the B.C. government on Nov. 25.

Yap said the concept of Happy Hour and the idea of open bottle service, which allows patrons to pour their own wine at the table, have been raised on the website, and both will be considered as the government makes its recommendations.

“I have not concluded on any specific recommendations, ruling something in or out, including (open bottle service,)” he said.

Vancouver police are concerned about relaxing liquor laws and allowing Happy Hour, which officers say will encourage binge drinking and could lead to more fighting and sex assaults. The VPD has also spoken out against the idea of open bottle service.

Police say the number of liquor-licensed seats in the Granville and Gastown entertainment districts has gone up to 11,200 from 7,800 in 2008.


Summary of the Canadian Restaurant and Food Association recommendations:

1. Replace the current liquor tax structure with a flat tax mark-up for wine and spirits.

2. Introduce a 16-per-cent liquor wholesale price discount for all liquor licensees in B.C.

3. Stop dividing liquor licence applicants as “food primary” or “liquor primary,” as this no longer reflects today’s hospitality concepts. Instead, introduce a single licensing system with a risk-based assessment similar to those in Alberta and Ontario.

4. Give the provincial government control over granting licenses with input from municipalities, as in other provinces. In B.C., municipalities have control.

5. Allow licensees to buy alcohol directly from private retailers.

6. Allow licensees to transfer liquor inventory from one licensed location to another.

7. Allow use of liquor pre-mixing machines for items such as slushy drinks and Sangria.

8. Allow licensees to adjust their liquor prices during the day as long as prices remain above the required minimum.