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Editorial: Allow wine and beer sales on B.C. Ferries in moderation

The sale of alcohol on B.C. Ferries has been delayed, but the debate over the idea is full steam ahead. One has to wonder what all the fuss is about. B.C.
Spirit of Vancouver Island photo
The ferry Spirit of Vancouver Island.

The sale of alcohol on B.C. Ferries has been delayed, but the debate over the idea is full steam ahead. One has to wonder what all the fuss is about.

B.C. Ferries plans to sell alcohol to Pacific Buffet diners on the Spirit of Vancouver Island, the Spirit of British Columbia and the Coastal Celebration between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen.

The move requires a licence, which in turn needs the approval of the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch. The branch is consulting with key stakeholders regarding the application.

The idea has caused a major debate between those of us who rely on the ferries – that is to say, virtually everyone on Vancouver Island.

Non-drinkers worry about the impact of impaired drivers on the roads and all of the negatives that go with alcohol use.

Casual imbibers wonder what all the fuss is about.

To be absolutely clear, drinking and driving do not mix. It has taken decades for society to understand that.

According to an internal memo, beer and wine sales would be restricted to the Pacific Buffet, and to customers 19 and older. A maximum of two drinks would be served with a meal – and everyone needs to pay for a meal on entry to the buffet.

All of the rules of responsible drinking would still apply; just as is the case when you go to a restaurant in your car, having a couple of drinks is fine for the passengers, but the driver would be better off to stick with water.

Really, how would the ferry experience differ from that in the restaurants found within five minutes of the terminals on either end of the route? Or the drinks offered on airplanes that land here every day?

The union representing the ferry workers is arguing that, for safety reasons, at least one more person should be hired in each buffet. That person would be dedicated to serving wine and beer, and would need to be trained to deal with alcoholic drinks and those who drink them.

A couple of precedents might alleviate some of the concern about the liquor idea.

The MV Coho car ferry between Victoria and Port Angeles, Washington, has sold beer and wine in its cafeteria for a few years. Washington State Ferries, which runs a ferry between Sidney and Anacortes, Washington, also sells beer and wine on board.

Selling local wine and beer might also expose more tourists to what is available here, and that is not a bad thing for the businesses involved. A bit of extra revenue for B.C. Ferries would not hurt either.

Yes, the idea is controversial. Some of us are not good with change at the best of times. Some of us are still grumbling about the installation of big-screen television sets on the ferries, or the opening of the video arcades. But we all have different tastes and different needs.

How about a one-year trial? Offer wine and beer, but with a limit of one drink per person. We will know soon enough if problems result.