Saturday, September 28, 2013

BC Liquor Policy Review Appears Genuine

right to left: myself, Adam Chatburn, Rick Green, John Yap, Ken Dawson
note the growler and Boston round we presented to the committee
& yes, they were full of  
Last Tuesday I was lucky enough to be invited to be a part of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) British Columbia team who took part in a face-to-face meeting with Liberal MLA and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General for Liquor Policy Reform, John Yap, as a part of the stakeholder meetings being held in during the current BC liquor policy review.

CAMRA BC President Rick Green, CAMRA Vancouver President, Adam Chatburn and myself, representing CAMRA Powell River, put together a 90 minute presentation (see bottom of post for CAMRA BC submission) which was heard by Yap, Ken Dawson, Cabinet Director in the Office of the Premier, and Suneil Karod, Executive Assistant in the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice. To date, Yap's committee has met with 19 different "stakeholder" groups, a list of which you can see, along with their submissions, on the above linked government website. I am not going to go into details of what we presented, as you can see for yourself, but want to talk more about the tone of the meeting and the impressions I took away from it.

Going in, I saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to speak directly about liquor law reform to those who actually have the influence and power to make changes, but was sceptical about the process, with the cynic in me not letting me get my hopes up as to how well our ideas would be perceived and received. If you would have asked me before the meeting how confident I felt that our message would be received, I would have told you I was confident we were presenting solid suggestions based on solid reasoning but that I was more than expecting to meet glazed-over looks and yawns from Mr Yap and Company.

I can tell you, I came out of our meeting feeling optimistic as the great reception, feedback and engagement from the government committee beat my inner cynic into submission. I am here to say right now, I believe this policy review is real, genuine and that there is a greater-than-not chance we will see real and significant changes made to our liquor policies in regards to liberalization and modernization, bringing us in line with the rest of Canada and much of the world where alcohol is allowed and legal.

I was encouraged by the fact that intelligent questions where asked by the committee. I was encouraged by the fact they were taking what appeared to be detailed notes. I was encouraged and impressed that many points we made were said to be supported by submissions of groups like the police (supporting families in beer gardens/festivals) and health care who apparently pointed out, like we did, that alcohol abuse is a complicated issue and related to more than just availability and price and that factors such as mental illness, socio-economic issues and social issues enter prominently into the equation.

I was also impressed with the relaxed, yet professional, atmosphere and candid discussion we had.

And it was a discussion.

It was very much a to-and-fro conversation and, at times, the committee asked tough questions or asked us to give examples of what we were talking about to back up our arguments and we were able to respond intelligently and professionally, something that was commented on by Dawson at the end of the meeting. At times, we used strong language and examples that were not too complimentary to the government and the bureaucrats who work under them.

Despite this, it was a cordial affair, not us-against-them, which we joked about as we walked into the board room, at the Labour Relations offices, where we found a large table with a bible sitting on it where, no doubt, many adversarial hearings and meetings have been held. Maybe the relaxed atmosphere was a result of the growlers full of beer from 33 Acres Brewery that were plunked down on the table by Chatburn and the CAMRA BC membership he gave Yap as we were introducing ourselves.

It was also very interesting to hear how closely Yap and his gang are tracking social media. They were quite pleased (and surprised) at the massive amount of feedback they received in regards to selling beer and wine in corner stores and supermarkets and as a result of the this, I think this idea may not be as dead in the water as some think. Yap also mentioned to me, after I introduced myself, that he had noticed the long Twitter conversation I was involved in regarding serving sizes a few days prior to our meeting which tells me that he and/or his team are looking at what is going on on a broader scope than we may think.

As a result, I would really encourage anyone who has an idea or an opinion on BC liquor policy to get on the site and get involved. In my humble opinion, we are, for the first time in a long time, being listened to. Maybe the experience of the HST disaster has the government listening to its citizens.  Or maybe they realize that this past election has given them a very unexpected chance to redeem themselves.

Whatever the reason for this process, it really doesn't matter for it is happening and they appear to be listening. Let us just hope that they will indeed follow through.

It is a time of anticipation for those of us who having been pushing hard for liquor policy reform and an exciting process to be a part of.

CAMRA BC Submission to the BC Liquor Policy Review

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