Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why Grapes are Being Freed While Hops Remained Shackled

Over the past month BC wine consumers and the BC wine industry have had several reasons to pop champagne corks in celebration of changes to both federal and provincial laws which have benefited both groups.

First Bill C-311, a Private Member's Bill  introduced into the House of Commons by Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas, prompted an amendment to the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (IILA) of 1928 which now allows, under federal law, that wine, and wine only, may transported or shipped across provincial borders by consumers.

Spirits and beer are still illegal to ship or transport across provincial boundaries as they have been since the introduction of the IILA.

Next the Provincial Liberals got in on the act by allowing consumers to buy direct from Canadian wineries and as an added bonus, they did not have to pay the BC Liquor Distribution Branch's (LDB) 123% mark-up! Even though the feds had allowed for cross-border shipments of wine, it is the provincial governments that ultimately have control of what alcohol gets imported into their jurisdictions so this move was critical to give Bill C-311 some meaning.

Again, these allowances were made for wine only, leaving laws unchanged in regards to spirits and beer.

If that weren't enough,  Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for all thing liquor in BC, next announced that BC wine lovers could now take their favourite bottle of wine to participating restaurants, pay a corkage fee and enjoy it with their meal. The allowance for Bring Your Own Wine (BYOW) was immediate and restaurants have been taking advantage of the freedom to allow BYOW since the announcement was made mid-July.

All of these great freedoms and allowances for wine lovers have craft beer drinkers crying into their sleeves. The moves definitely give the appearance that the BC wine consumers and  wine industry get favoured treatment from the BC Liberals, the LDB and the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB), and in many cases this is true, but in these cases I would argue that these wine-centric changes have been well-earned by the consumers of wine in this province who have organized, lobbied and gained the support from the industry to back their fight to change laws.

Groups like #freemygrapes, who Albas thanks on his website for their essential support, and Modernize Wine have been working hard to bring wine consumers together on issues and form loud, strong voices that the government and the wine industry have not been able to ignore. They have a small core of very dedicated people who are adept at creating a buzz, educating other consumers about the importance of supporting their movements and catching the attention of politicians. They are good at defining, ahead of time, exactly what it is that they want, creating an action plan and then going out and getting the results they want..

And contrary to popular belief, these movements are not heavily funded by deep-pocketed vineyard owners, at least not in the beginning.

#Freemygrapes and Modernize Wine are consumer-driven, grassroots movements. They use social media  to the maximum to create a buzz and focus attention on themselves. They often organize on-line chats, to discuss the issues at hand and keep people focused. They have email write-in and Twitter campaigns which target politicians and bureaucrats who are in positions to influence the changes they seek and put pressure on the various private sector groups to support them. More importantly than organizing these awareness-raising events is that they get participation in large numbers which is essential. They are determined and have been organizing for years now, which is one of the major reasons they are now seeing successes.

These movements being consumer-driven makes sense because many, if not all manufacturers, vendors and importers of alcohol in BC are afraid to stick their heads up and speak out about problems and demand changes due to the atmosphere of fear and the widely-held belief that voicing complaints and concerns will result in reprisals from the LCLB and LDB. I don't know how many times I have heard from licensees they feel both government agencies are "vindictive" when challenged either privately or publicly. You only have to look at the RIO Theatre saga, where RIO ownership publicly challenged the Liberal Government and LCLB in the media and paid the price with the process dragging on much longer that it needed to, almost costing RIO ownership their business, before Mr Coleman finally did what he should have done straight off, which is make changes to a decades-old liquor policy that had no place being enforced in the 21st Century.

It is a widely-held belief by many that the process involving the RIO's licensing issues was purposely delayed to make the RIO ownership pay for their direct public challenges. These are, of course, just rumours....

So it is up to us, the consumers, to lead the charge as we have less to lose in regards to what the LCLB and/or LDB can do to us. They cannot suspend our liquor license or hit us with some arbitrary fine for "contravening" liquor laws. They cannot lose our liquor order of products that fill our shelves. They cannot lose our paperwork, delaying payment for products sold weeks before.

They can ignore us, but in the end, if consumers make enough noise, with enough people, politicians, who ultimately call the shots for the LCLB and LDB, will listen because consumers are voters and in the end, politicians are all about getting votes so they can stay in power.

The craft beer consumer is not without options and does have CAMRA BC, and their branches in Vancouver, Victoria and the Fraser Valley, to rally around but CAMRA BC does have numbers, with close to 1,100 individual members and over 80 corporate supporters, but those numbers mean nothing if the majority of members are silent and/or unwilling to get involved. I made recent calls to individual members to write emails to LCLB General Karen Ayers and minister Rich Coleman in support of CAMRA Vancouver's Bring Your Own Craft Beer Campaign and out of the 250 or so who had signed our petition and our 700+ members, about 20 people responded (and my thanks to all who did respond).

A group like CAMRA and movements/campaigns are only as effective as those supporting it and until craft beer consumers learn to get as organized, vocal and supportive as wine consumers are, they are going to be like poor kids standing outside the candy shop with their noses pressed up against the window, jealously watching the rich kids inside the store sampling and buying their sweets.

So, craft beer consumers, if you want to #freemyhops, Bring Your Own Craft Beer or are against the LDB privatization of distribution, get active, get involved and support those groups out there, like CAMRA BC/CAMRA Vancouver, who are actively trying to make a difference. Write letters to the editor, get involved in tweet and email campaigns, sign petitions, get friends and family interested in supporting the cause.

And if you are waiting for the person next to you to fight your battle, don't because I have news for you, they are probably waiting for you to fight their's.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

CAMRA BC Speaks Out on LDB Privatization - Time For Craft Beer Consumers to be Heard

Disclaimer: For those who do not know, I am the current president of CAMRA Vancouver. I write this blog as myself and the opinions voiced here on VanEast Beer Blog are mine, not those of CAMRA BC, CAMRA Vancouver or another organization

In case you missed it, last week the Campaign for Real Ale of British Columbia (CAMRA BC) spoke out publicly against the current Liberal Government plans to sell off the province's liquor distribution warehouses and warehouse distribution system to the private sector, joining groups like the Alliance of Beverage Licensees of BC, the BC Government Employees Union and The Craft Brewer's Guild of BC and the NDP Party of BC in voicing their dissent.

In an email to Rich Coleman (see below) and many other major players in the current privatization process, CAMRA BC, a craft beer consumer advocacy group, voiced displeasure about the fact the the Liberals have not been able to guarantee that the privatization plans will not negatively impact the access to locally brewed craft beer or that alcohol prices will not increase for the craft beer consumers of BC. They also point to the absence of consultation with the private and public sectors of the province and to the fact that the Liberals have not produced a business case or cost-effect analysis to support their privatization plans.

The email came one day before NDP Alcohol Critic Shane Simpson dropped a bombshell by releasing documents showing the BC Liberals had no current plans to privatize before being approached last summer by Exel Logistics, who made a pitch to take over the province's alcohol distribution which they had been pursuing for years. For excellent coverage of the whole affair check out Bob Mackins blog 2010 Goldrush #LiquorLeaks.

I hope the CAMRA BC (CAMRA Victoria, CAMRA Vancouver, CAMRA Fraser Valley) membership at large pick up on the cue that it is time to start voicing their dissent individually as well. It is all well and good when organizations speak out as a whole, but the voice becomes much louder when the individuals who make up the membership of these organizations take it upon themselves to make some noise themselves.

One email from CAMRA BC to Rich Coleman, et al, is essential. One thousand emails from CAMRA BC members will have Coleman and all involved sitting up and taking notice as each voice of dissent is a vote and in politics that is what counts.

This whole affair has the same stink to it that the HST did when the BC Liberals did another about face about face, changing their position from "no HST" prior to the 2011 election to announcing implementation of the since shot-down tax shortly after being voted back in.

Maybe it is time for an another HST-type, grassroots revolt here in BC to show the Liberals once and for all, we will not tolerate being lied to and deceived. The necessary emails are all below for anyone who feels it is important to speak out in order to try to stop this process until the government provides some evidence the move is good for British Columbians and determine that this is indeed what the citizens of BC want.

Democracy only works if there is participation from the masses.
From: CAMRA President <pres@camravancouver.ca> Date: Wed, Jul 11, 2012 at 5:38 PM  Subject: Campaign for Real Ale of British Columbia position LDB Distribution Warehouse Privatization
To: rich.coleman.mla@leg.bc.ca 
Cc: <Shane.Simpson.MLA@leg.bc.ca>, kevin.falcon.mla@leg.bc.camargaret.macdiarmid.mla@leg.bc.caRoger.Bissoondatt@bcldb.comoffice@macauley.ca, <Karen.Ayers@gov.bc.ca> 

Dear Mr Coleman   
I am writing you this letter on behalf of the Campaign for Real Ale of British Columbia (CAMRA BC), a craft beer consumer advocacy group who represent more than 1000 individual and 100 corporate members here in British Columbia and of which I am the Vancouver Branch President and member of the BC Executive.  
Since the announcement of the BC Liberal Government’s plan to sell off the Liquor Distribution Branch’s warehouses and with them the province’s warehouse distribution system, many groups have come out against the plan, including the opposition NDP Party, Alliance of Beverage Licensees of BC, the BC Government Employee’s Union and the Craft Brewer’s Guild of BC.   
There have been complaints of the complete absence of consultation with BC’s liquor industry or the general public, and the lack of guarantees that this privatization plan will not negatively impact the alcohol industry and alcohol consumers of this province.   
It is now our turn, the craft beer consumers of BC, to voice our dissent due in large part to  the lack of information as to how this privatization will affect the craft beer industry and craft beer consumers and because the current government cannot guarantee 100 percent that this privatization deal, when completed and implemented, will not have a negative impact on the craft beer consumers of BC.   
No business case has been presented. A clear cost-effect analysis should be completed and presented to both the liquor industry and general public in order to clarify exactly how privatization will affect liquor prices before this process goes any further.   
No study has been done and no guarantees have been made as to whether privatization will affect access to BC-brewed beers from local, craft breweries.  
At the moment, the Provincial Government has a mandate to make these beers accessible, but will this continue after privatization?   
In short, CAMRA BC cannot currently support this privatization plan and will continue to voice dissent until the following steps are taken:
  1. Conduct a study to provide objective data showing how this move will impact the craft beer consumers of BC  
  1. Make public a business case and/or cost-effect analysis
  1. Have a full and meaningful consultation with both the private and public sectors of the province in regards to the planned sale and privatization of the Liquor Distribution Branch's warehouses and warehouse distribution system  
If, after those steps have been taken and it is shown that this privatization plan will not negatively impact the craft beer consumers of BC, CAMRA BC will be willing to support this move publicly on behalf of our membership. 
Thank you for your time. 
Paddy Treavor  
President, Vancouver Branch - CAMRA BC

The Sh*t Has Hit the Fan

The shit really hit the fan Thursday, splattering all over the BC Liberals and their plans to fast-track the sale of the LDB warehouses and warehouse distribution system.

NDP MLA, and my favourite BC politician at the moment, Shane Simpson, flung the poop when he dropped a bombshell, producing 39 pages of documents that show that the BC Liberals, as far along as June 2011, had no plans to privatize liquor distribution, yet weeks later, after then Solicitor General Shirley Bond was approached by Exel Logistics VP Scott Lyons, the government had a change of heart and forged ahead with the privatization plan, despite having no business case.

After Simpson released the documents, accessed through Freedom of Information, there was a media frenzy. I especially enjoyed Vaughn Palmer's grilling of Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid on CKNW shortly after Simpson's announcement. MacDiarmid's comment that, "governments do change their minds" is ridiculous under the circumstances when you consider that in June/11 LDB privatization was not on the table, yet after the meeting with Lyons August 25th/11, the privatization proposal was alive and moving forward. It reeks of the BC Liberal claims that the HST "was not on their radar" prior to the 2011 election, yet weeks after being voted back into government, Gordon Campbell and his Liberal Government were ramming the hated tax down tax payers throats. 

At least one respected political pundit, retired political journalist, Havery Overfeld, believes that current government cabinet ministers could be charged criminally if they go through with the sale and privatization.  

Do the Liberal government really think the general public are that stupid?

Reporter Bob Mackin has been exposing the whole sordid LDB privatization mess with his series of blog posts hash tagged #liquorleaks on his blog 2010 Gold Rush. In a post from May, Mackin released a document that shows that although the BC Provincial Government did not have a plan to privatize the LDB, Exel Logistics did and they were actively trying to sell it to the Campbell era Liberals in 2010. There is now proof that the lobbying of the Liberals by Exel goes back as far as 2005 and that Exel were attempting to help shape the government's Request For Proposals (RFP), using Progressive Group lobbyists Patrick Kinsella and Mark Jiles, both of whom have strong Liberal connections, so that Exel would have an advantage.

I can't keep track of all that is happening now as the story is so convoluted but here is a good summing up from Vancouver Sun reporter Jeff Lee. There are just too many of the same characters showing up with the same connections for this whole affair to be on the up-and-up.

Here are some of the major players and how they are connected:

  1. Exel Logistics VP Scott Lyons, who approached the BC Liberals to present this privatization plan is the same Scott Lyons who was high up in the food chain in The Beer Store organization, a chain of beer retail outlets that dominates the Ontario beer market with an 85% share and who are owned by Labbat Brewing Company, Molson Coors Canada and Sleemans Breweries.
  2. The Beer Store funneled well over 100,000 in political contributions into BC Liberal coffers since 2005, despite having no retail outlets here in BC, which you can read about here and here.
  3. Exel Logistics hired the Progressive Group to help lobby the government in regards to privatization of the LDB.
  4. Progressive Group is owned by Pat Kinsella, who has strong Liberal connections having been an adviser to Christie Clark during her successful bid to become premier last year. Kinsella was also former Premier Gordon Campbell's campaign manager during the 2001 and 2005 elections and who was involved in the whole BC Rail debacle .
  5. Mark Jiles, a Progressive Group consultant, registered in 2010, along with Kinsella, to lobby Liberal cabinet ministers including Rich Coleman, Shirley Bond and Pat Bell, on behalf of Exel Logistics, "to develop a new liquor distribution system for the Province of BC".   
  6. Mark Jiles, according to his LinkIn profile was a sales consultant for Labbat Breweries of BC. Mr Jiles is also no stranger to controversy when it comes to suspicious lobbying.
  7. Exel Logistics has run Alberta's liquor distribution since 1994. A recent post on onbeer.org highlights many problems associated with having a private monopoly running a provincial distribution system.

I hope that these latest developments peaks the public ire and motivates the people of BC to demand a halt to this process until the Liberals can produce evidence they are not just selling off public assets to appease big business and reward long-time supporters and friends. If they can produce a business case and a cost-benefit analysis that supports that this move is in the best interest of British Colombians, then I say let them put those forth for the public and private sectors to assess and then hold a referendum during the next election so that we have an actual say in what goes on in this province.

Until that time, I hope the likes of Shane Simpson and Bob Mackin keep putting Liberal feet to the fire.

You would think that after the HST disaster, the Liberals would have learned.