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

Saturday, September 21, 2013

CAMRA BC Has Something to Yap About

This past August the BC Liberal Government began what they are calling the "BC Liquor Policy Review"  headed up by John Yap, Parliamentary Secretary to the Attorney General and Justice Minister, Suzanne Anton.

According to the website, the consultation will be conducted in two phases, with Phase 1 having begun in August 2013,  when Yap, the Liberal MLA for Richmond-Steveston, sent letters "to key industry groups and stakeholders, and more than 10,000 liquor licensees and liquor agency stores, seeking input on making practical, common-sense change to B.C.'s liquor policy."

Phase 2, which began mid-September and runs until October 31, 2013, is where the general public have their say, with Yap asking for feedback from British Columbians, inviting them submit their "ideas and comments," with the website stating, "your ideas and comments will be considered in the final report to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice."

If you haven't checked out the policy review website, it is quite comprehensive and well thought out and worth a look.

And to further prove they have not already made up their minds as to what changes will be made, and are not just going through the motions, the Liberals are, according to their website, inviting "stakeholders from local governments, First nations, police, industry, health and social policy groups" to meet with Yap face-to-face. 

One of the "social policy groups" meeting with Yap is the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) BC after Vancouver Branch President, Adam Chatburn, contacted the consultation organizers and insisted CAMRA BC, who are now representing close to 1400 total members from five active branches, be heard. 

Next Tuesday, Sept 24th, Chatburn, CAMRA BC President, Rick Green, and myself, as CAMRA Powell River President, are meeting with Yap, along with other government types, Ken Dawson and Suneil Karod, who are representing the office's of the Premier and Attorney General respectively. It is our hope that we can get the government types to listen to reason and make some of the changes CAMRA has been pushing for in this province over the past few years.

Chatburn has submitted a brief letter outlining what CAMRA is aiming to talk about and our group will present our ideas for change in more detail, and reasoning for why they are good changes for BC and the BC craft beer consumer, during the meeting. You can check out CAMRA Vancouver's page dedicated to the process here.  

A few of the things CAMRA wants to push are not surprising, such as getting the growler mark-up reversed (lowered), trying to ensure consumer protection in regards to misrepresented serving sizes and allowing craft beer to be sold at farmers markets, all active CAMRA Vancouver campaigns. 

Another change we want to push for is ensuring greater consumer access to BC-brewed, craft beers by pushing for automatic listings for beers brewed in the province, if the brewery so wishes to sell their beer in their local BC Liquor Stores and having the BC Liquor Stores feature BC craft beer in a distinct section of the store similar to how wine is marketed. CAMRA is also looking at having the government allow licensees to be able to have the ability to change the price of their drinks throughout the day, something that was banned in the 1980's in this province but which is allowed, with government guidelines and restrictions, in most provinces.

For a complete list of what is on the agenda, look at the letter linked above.

I know some will disagree with our list or have their own spins on the issues we are addressing, but we came up with what we thought was best and, to tell you the truth, when we put out the call to members to give us feed back on what they wanted, we got very little feedback. 

Regardless if you agree or disagree with CAMRA's agenda, I encourage you to go to the site, post your comments and/or ideas and be heard.

This is probably the only chance, for decades to come, to be heard in regards to liquor policy and the government says they are listening, so speak. If you are like the majority of us who enjoy a drink here and there, you have most likely complained about our outdated and restrictive liquor laws so this is your chance to complain directly to those who have the power to make changes instead of whining to the barfly seated next to you at your local.  

If you do not get involved in a process you have been invited to participate in, you have no grounds to complain about the outcomes from that process later on if you ignore that invitation.

If Twitter is more your thing, look for the Twitter town hall meeting on Sunday, September 29, 2013 1800-1900 hours (6-7 PM) where you can tweet your suggestions and comments to @John_yap  

I'll let you know next week how our meeting went when I get back from Vancouver. I am hoping I can get a read on how Yap & Co feel about our ideas during the meeting and really hope we get lots of questions and feedback and not yawns and glazed looks.

In the meantime, make yourself heard.