Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Open Letter to Honourable Minister Rich Coleman

Dear Mr Coleman

As a person who has been advocating long and hard for the review and reform of BC liquor laws and the way alcohol is controlled and distributed in this province, I would like to thank you for finally taking notice of the loud and persistent calls for changes.

For a while there I was wondering if the government's strategy was to allow us liquor-law naysayers to scream ourselves hoarse and fall silent due to sheer exhaustion, but your quick call to action after being put in charge of both the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) and Liquor Distribution Board (LDB)  has me thinking there is a glimmer of hope that BC can begin to treat those who can legally consume and those who distribute and sell alcohol in BC like the adults that they are.

For as long as I have been aware of alcohol and liquor laws, I have been aware of BC residents and alcohol-related businesses crying out for changes to our out-dated and over-bearing liquor laws and system of alcohol distribution. The way in which these laws restrict the freedoms of those who choose to partake in downing a few adult beverages here in BC and the seemingly arbitrary way the LCLB enforce these laws, may have made perfect sense in post-Prohibition British Columbia, circa 1925, but sir it is now 2012 and if those who believe the Mayan calendar may indeed be predicting the Apocalypse on Dec 21, of this year, would like you to hurry along with these promised reforms.

By announcing that the BC Liberals are finally looking at "a number of issues on liquor", so that changes can be made, has many of us advocating for changes collectively holding our breath. Can real change and the end to the Orwellian, Big Brother style of controlling the liquor industry and liquor consumption in BC be just around the corner?

You seem to be a man of action and I am sure it is no coincidence that the shift of responsibility for all things alcohol in BC to you, from the Ministry of the Solicitor General, came at a time when a grassroots movement and a groundswell of support calling for reforms to liquor laws was growing, rallied by the ridiculous and short-sighted decision by the LCLB and General Manager Karen Ayers to cripple The Rio Theatre's ability to show movies even when alcohol was not being served.

My only fear is that this promise to review and "fix" liquor law problems is motivated by the Liberal government's fear of populist, grassroots' movements, as you are still stinging from the whole HST debacle and the Bill Vander Zalm-lead campaign that resulted in the hated tax being repealed and not by truly recognizing that there is a need for change. There will be huge disappointment and a further decline in Liberal popularity with BC voters, if this review and reform turns out to be nothing more than a few superficial changes, made to give the appearance of listening to voters and acting on their concerns, to quell voter unrest, when in fact nothing really changes.

A few band-aids slapped on as a quick fix  will not suffice when total reconstructive surgery is required.

It will take more than allowing us to enjoy a beer while watching a movie in a theatre to "fix" and "reform BC liquor laws.

For instance, why does the LDB have complete control over what alcohol is sold in this province, for what price and how it is distributed? Why must private liquor stores complete on an uneven playing field, having to buy all their liquor from the LDB who mark up the price so that these private stores must sell their alcohol at a higher price than the government run BC Liquor Stores? Why, for that matter, does the LDB mark-up booze well over 100% before selling it off to bars and restaurants who must again mark up the price to make a profit and cover their operating costs? Why does the LDB, not consumer demand, get to dictate what products the general public and the hospitality industry can and cannot buy? Why is it illegal for freedom of movement in regards to alcohol across provincial borders? Why can consumers not BYOB to restaurants like in other provinces like Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec? Why, in the name of public safety can there not be dancing and plugged in, live music in restaurants? Why can I bring my daughter into a restaurant with a wine and beer list ten pages long, with those wines and beers being consumed on all sides of us, yet I cannot take her into a small, quiet, local neighbourhood pub which may feature a tenth of the alcohol selection and offer a great food menu? Why is it so difficult to open small, local microbreweries and brew pubs?

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.

I really hope you have taken the time to read this letter Mr Coleman as I am one of a legion of voters who feel the same way. We are fed up and we are tired of having our enjoyment restricted because a few out there may abuse the system and serve/consume alcohol irresponsibly. Let those of us who are responsible sell and consume responsibly, without government interference and punish those who do serve to minors, over-crowd their licensed establishments over-serve and over-consume. I hope during your "review" of liquor laws you take the time to consult with the hospitality industry, to listen to people like myself and include consumer advocacy groups such as CAMRA Vancouver and CAMRA BC who promote and educate about responsible consumption of alcohol.

Yours Truly
Paddy Treavor
Cautiously Optimistic Citizen of BC
President, CAMRA Vancouver
Authour of VanEast Beer Blog


  1. I think you make some decent points. We all know there are lots of problems with liquor laws in BC. One thing to consider. A large part of the reason why the LBD sets liquor prices and forces private stores to buy from them is to enforce a minimum per unit price on alcohol. Studies have found that a minimum per unit price has the greatest effect on low priced high concentration alcohol and has serious public health benefits. The BBC recently ran a story on Scotland's move towards minimum per unit pricing. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15537338 I'm sure you can find more on this subject. My point being that you're likely to have more success attacking anachronisms in the liquor laws than areas that have proven/strongly believed connection with public health initiatives. Best of luck with your campaign.

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  3. The LDB does not have "complete control" over alcohol products sold in this province. There are many spec wines, beers, and spirits in fine private stores, wineries and brewpubs. As the President of CAMRA, I would expect you to know this--perhaps even patronizing some of these products now and again.

    The biggest ramification of privatizing the LDB is the loss of blue collar jobs. Alberta did this, and they are paying prices similar to what we currently pay, on average. And you can bet their clerks are not making a living wage. Neither are the private liquor store clerks here, for that matter. Since you speak of responsibility, consider joining us in the Campaign for Real Jobs.

    As a responsible adult, I never have a problem with the LDB hours, and do not find the system any more archaic than any other retail outlet. In fact, the hours are usually better than other stores I shop at. I like being able to find my way around different LDB stores, thanks to a streamlined layout. I can drop off upto 24 cans at the LDB stores. Private stores do not offer this. There is no guarantee their hours would not be regulated or restricted. Even after doors are shut, I don't have a problem finding booze when I need it in this city, right to the wee hours. In fact, there's another reason towards homebrewing Real Ale -- it's available whenever you want. Are you not a member of the Vanbrewer's association, Paddy?

    Considering your apathy towards local pub culture, I'm surprised you would like your kids to be privileged to be admitted to one of the only "adult-only" zones in the city. I think if you want to take your kids to a pub for food, you could advocate for more split-zoned restaurant-pubs, such as what exists at the Cambie. I personally would be very much against letting kids into pubs. This changes the nature of the environment from one to relax and cut loose, maybe even find a hook-up, to one where you must be on better behaviour because there are 'kids around'. Some patrons would no doubt show an awful side of alcoholism ans sexuality to children in pubs--perhaps you (and your kids) have been fortunate enough not to witness this vulgarity first-hand. I wouldn't patronize pubs which welcomed kids until closing time, and I think there is 'a legion of voters' who would also boycott. You could take a survey about it if you want, but I bet the pub business would suffer.

    Instead, the laws for closing time could be back on the table. Extending the hours again benefits the merchants--and maybe the public might finally be able the leverage a 24-hr skytrain at last.

    Should the laws be reviewed? Absolutely. But there are more points that Mr. Coleman and I will consider before rants like yours truly take hold in the public sphere. For now, these arguments belong to a small group (mostly private liquor store merchants) who are only half-educated in the relevant policies, scope of the laws, and probable scale of impact. Like any other major change, time needs to be taken to educate and broaden the scope of the arguments and proposals fully before the public. Unfortunately, the liberal government has no interest in good governance, so all we can expect is yet another robbery of the public trust. Say it ain't so.


  4. Thank you for your comments Darthphaidra, your interpretations of what I posted are interesting to say the least.
    Spec orders for private liquor stores, bars and restaurants do have to go through the LDB and the LDB do have the ability to just say no and according to my sources, people who actually attempt to place these orders, the LDB often does. The LDB also have the ability to demand a restaurant order a case of a bottle of wine instead of that restaurant being able to buy a single bottle of that same wine from a private liquor store or for a private liquor store to order a pallet of beer instead of a few cases that they may require.
    As president of CAMRA I actually do understand the laws.
    As for you being satisfied with LDB stores, I am pleased for you. Myself, I would rather go to one of the private liquor stores that are open seven days a week, every day of the year and which are all open until 11 PM.
    I would also like to shop in those private stores that have a comprehensive choice of BC craft beers with staff who generally are educated and know what they are talking about. Not all private stores are like that, but the ones I choose to frequent are. I have tried asking many employees at government liquor stores, who are making substantially more money than their private store counterparts, about craft beer products and I have found few that have any product knowledge whatsoever. I know many private liquor stores that actually take the time to have education classes and training for employees about the products they are selling.
    Maybe I am just too demanding??
    I do not think I suggested anywhere privatizing the whole system and cutting union jobs. Overhauling and redoing, yes. Modernizing and streamlining, yes.
    I fail to see where I advocated for the loss of union or living-wage jobs.
    As for kids in licensed establishments, I would propose that establishments should have the choice to declare if they want to be +-19 or family oriented. Why should a pub not be able to be family oriented and advertise and market this...if you feel the need to get liquored up and "hook up" you could just choose not to frequent that establishment. I do not think all places should be all ages. Again, I do not see where I advocated for that. Giving the licensee the choice I think is what I would say I was looking at. These liquor primary and food primary licenses are a joke in many cases.
    Again, you can see alcoholic debauchery in a restaurant that has cheap booze and are a bit loose with their interpretation of the laws. As a responsible parent, I am careful about where I take my daughter and a licensed establishment that is food primary doesn't guarantee it is a suitable environment. And being a responsible parent,I would not have my child in any establishment until closing time. I have seen vulgarity on transit and on the sidewalk of Commercial Drive in the afternoon, so sheltering a child from said vulgarity is much more difficult than keeping them out of licensed establishments.
    Again, we can agree to disagree on things, but I do take exception with some of the things you seem to believe I said in my post. I have no issue with people who disagree, but please, if you are accusing me of taking a certain viewpoint on something, be accurate. Many of the points you seem to feel I was making are not in fact what was written.