Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Open Letter to CAMRA Vancouver Membership

Last Friday, when I read the media release from Rich Coleman's office announcing changes to BC liquor laws, I felt proud to know that CAMRA Vancouver had a hand in bringing those changes about.

CAMRA members, you may not realize it, but we, as a consumer advocacy group, did play a role in educating politicians about the issues and did put pressure on the government to make these changes regarding both tied houses and the on-site tasting room-lounge consumption areas. These changes specifically benefit craft beer consumers and they were issues that were particularly targeted by your executive over the past few years. We may not have been the major players that helped prompt these changes, but I, as a past president can tell you we were definitely in the mix.

Although every member may not have played a direct role, or even known what was going on with the executive in regards to advocacy, they did play an indirect role in that CAMRA Vancouver was able to state to both government and bureaucratic officials in various communications that we were representing a group of concerned consumers that numbered close to 800 members. As such a large group, and one that continues to grow and expand, those in positions that can make decisions to effect change have to pay more attention.  Your support and membership in CAMRA Vancouver gives those advocating on behalf of your consumer rights more strength, legitimacy and power.

Our voice in regards to tied houses was heard loud and clear, starting with then President Martin Williams's letter to the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch in Feb/11 voicing CAMRA's concerns about completely deregulating tied house and trade practice laws.

Myself and former CAMRA Vancouver VP, Dieter Friesen, took CAMRA's concerns forward again about a year later to then alcohol critic, NDP MLA Shane Simpson. That meeting led to CAMRA Vancouver arranging for Shane to tour three breweries in his riding to meet with brewery representatives and talk about their concerns and what changes would benefit their businesses. One of the topics that was discussed was tied house rules and how having some sort of controlled-limited tied house opportunities for some small breweries would be beneficial for businesses and consumers alike.

This original meeting and tour led to Mr Simpson raising the subject of tied house restrictions in the BC Legislature bringing the issue to the attention of Rich Coleman, minister responsible for LCLB/LDB. CAMRA Vancouver then arranged a second meeting with Mr Simpson and players in the local craft beer industry to again discuss pushing for some modifications to the tied house laws. The tasting lounge, on-site consumption issues was also discussed at this meeting. Mr Simpson once again wrote a letter to the LCLB querying as to what was being done in regards to tied houses and pushing for limited allowances for tied houses to exist.

CAMRA Vancouver has also been liaising with other advocacy groups such as Modernize Wine and The Campaign for Culture and these meetings were very informative as all three groups were able to share information and coordinate on issues where we have common concerns such as tied house deregulation. We were looking at moving forward together to some degree, but that need, in regards to tied houses was nullified by last Friday's announcement.

In regards to the on-site consumption and lounge laws, CAMRA Vancouver did play an active role in contacting many craft breweries to help them coordinate and encourage them to write the LCLB when the call went out for consultation last June. This coordination helped prompt a huge response from the industry which led to the government making the changes to bring breweries and distilleries in line with wineries in regards to on-site consumption opportunities. Pushing to get the craft beer consumer and the craft beer industry the same rights and freedoms that the wine consumer and industry enjoy has been something CAMRA Vancouver has been hammering away at in communications with the LCLB and the Liberal Government. This one change to the law gives me hope that if CAMRA Vancouver, CAMRA BC and the CAMRA membership keep advocating for the same rights, freedoms and privileges that wine consumers enjoy, one day corkage for beer and inter-provincial importation of Canadian craft beer, with no provincial markup on cost, will be allowed as it is for wine consumers.

CAMRA BC and CAMRA Vancouver were also among the throngs protesting about the proposed privatization of the LDB warehouses. Letters were sent to many Liberal politicians and to the LCLB voicing our concerns about how the move may negatively impact consumers. I was asked to appear twice on CKNW radio to represent CAMRA and talk about these concerns as well, raising awareness as to how this move may be bad for consumers. As you all know, the government eventually trashed the idea to privatize and backed away. The huge outcry and protest from various groups, including CAMRA, the only group speaking on behalf of the craft beer consumer, played a major role in the privatization idea being abandoned.

Be proud CAMRA members, we have accomplished a lot the past few years. I have no illusions that we have been solely responsible for any of these positives changes as there have been many different groups lobbying the government both publicly and behind closed doors, but I do believe 100% our group has contributed to the push towards reforming our outdated liquor laws. Continued CAMRA growth will bolster numbers and provide CAMRA Vancouver and CAMRA BC with more money to educate and advocate and continued-increased support of our executive will help CAMRA Vancouver be more successful in their quest to protect the rights of craft beer consumers.

Because at its core, that is what CAMRA is all about: educating about craft beer and advocating on behalf of craft beer consumers. We are more than just a beer drinking club and whether you realize it or not, by supporting CAMRA Vancouver, you are making a difference and are apart of the solution.

Just think about what a difference we can make as an organization if we as members all commit to being more engaged, to answering our executives call to support campaigns, participate in social media blitzes and get more involved. It only takes minutes to make your voice heard and the more voices heard by the government, the more they are likely to listen.

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