B.C. booze review seriously pondering selling liquor in grocery stores

VICTORIA – British Columbians appear to be overwhelmingly in favour of picking up a six-pack of beer or bottle wine at the same neighbourhood grocery store where they buy their bread and milk, says the Liberal government’s liquor policy reform czar John Yap.

Yap said Tuesday the Liberals are now seriously weighing changing B.C.’s liquor laws to permit liquor sales at grocery stores.

He said up to 80 per cent of the people responding to the government’s on-going liquor policy review put selling alcohol in grocery stores at the top of their wish list.

The Liberals have embarked on a review to modernize and update the province’s liquor laws, which were last reviewed in 1999. British Columbians have until Oct. 31 to provide input into the current review, which Yap will submit to Justice Minister Suzanne Anton on Nov. 25.

“British Columbians value convenience and our liquor laws should reflect this changing dynamic,” Yap said at a Vancouver news conference. “British Columbians have spoken and I want to let them know this — I am listening. 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 might work for B.C.”

Yap said Quebec, Nova Scotia and Ontario all have some forms of liquor sales in stores, which B.C. will examine before considering the concept further.

He said other liquor policy changes suggested by British Columbians, include allowing craft beer and wine to be sold at farmer’s markets, streamlining the liquor licence application process for special events and allowing children to accompany their parents at liquor establishments such as pubs and legions.

A spokesman for B.C.’s private liquor stores said the organization opposes grocery store liquor sales, both on safety and economic grounds.

“The model we have now is working extremely well for British Columbians,” said Ian Baillie, Alliance of Beverage Licensees of B.C. spokesman.

“It’s virtually impossible to find a grocery store in this province that is 100 to 200 feet away from a liquor store,” he said.

Baillie said British Columbians are well-served by private and public liquor outlets and an overstocked supply of liquor outlets raises health and business concerns. He said there are currently 1,400 liquor outlets in B.C.

Private liquor stores employ 15,000 people, said Baillie.

He said the government’s review of expanding liquor sales to grocery stores should go beyond the criteria that “it’s popular.”

Yap said the policy review will focus on health and safety concerns, which could involve maintaining a cap on the current number of liquor outlets, but allow liquor operations to set up shop within grocery stores.