Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Call to Action - Please Take A Minute to Make a Difference

As you all know I am thoroughly disgusted by the ill-though-through policy that has introduced a new
kind of sums it all up doesn't it? photo by dennis the foodie
minimum drink price here in BC, giving us the highest drink price minimum in the country.

From the thousands of hits on my posts related to this and the overwhelming negative reaction to this policy I have received in the form of emails, tweets, comments & Facebook comments, I think it is time to act and let those who brought in this policy, and those who can advocate on behalf of alcohol consumers in BC, know we want this changed.

You may think, "why bother", but I can tell you from past experience, this works. When a politician gets 50-100 e-mails related to a certain issue, they take notice. When they get hundreds, especially of the negative variety, they get nervous and tend towards action. If they get thousands, well, they simply cannot ignore them.

If we act, maybe the Liberals will find a way to save face and fix this bad policy.

One thing is certain; if we do not act, nothing will happen. Please bcc me so I can keep track of the numbers of e-mails sent.

The e-mail does not need to be long. Short, sweet, polite and to-the-point. If you have specific examples as to how this new minimum drink policy is negatively impacting you - i.e., prices at your local have gone up, or the discount provided at your local being minimal because the drink price minimum is only slightly lower than the regular price - use them. I would recommend just sending one email and addressing it to all you want to send it to. I have provided email addresses below for you to cut and paste and a link so you can find your local MLA's contact info.

I would also suggest you "like" the Fix BC Happy Hour Facebook page as I am sure the politicians are keeping tabs on it and seeing the numbers rise substantially will make them nervous as well. Yes, I know Bill Tieleman has ties to the NDP and was one of their strategists, but this isn't about political parties, it is about getting bad policy fixed so it works for all of BC, not just those who want to see increases to alcohol prices in BC.

This policy just makes no sense.  Previous to this new legislation, there were literally hundreds of daily drink specials - specials that had to be maintained for the entire time a licensee was open that day - that were lower than the current drink price minimums and there seemed to be no issues or need to fix things due to widespread drunkenness, abuse and over-serving.

Now, to protect ourselves from ourselves, they have introduced temporary specials, happy hours, at higher prices to what end as the pricing during the daily specials were not causing undue problems. As well, in other provinces with substantially lower minimum drink prices, there are no glaring issues or problems that I have seen. The last time I was in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary or Halifax, I did not see drunken mayhem in the streets, yet our government, who were sold a bill of goods by "industry & health advocates", saw the need to set our minimum much higher to prevent problems that quite frankly do not exist in other jurisdictions.

Please write. Encourage your friends and family of drinking age to write. Remember to state in your e-mail you are a registered voter as losing votes is one of the few things that gets a politicians attention 100% of the time.

Here are some relevant e-mail addresses:

Christy Clark -
Suzanne Anton (Justice Minister)  -
Douglas Scott (GM of Liquor Control & Licensing) -
John Yap -
Shane Simpson (NDP critic liquor portfolio) -
VanEast Beer Blog -

List for MLA contact info

Friday, June 27, 2014

More Price Increases to Come for BC Craft Beer Drinkers?

Many in BC find themselves paying more for their beer this week than they did last week due to the BC Liberal Party's announcement of new minimum drink prices, which are now the highest in the country, but this may not be the last beer drinkers see for price hikes.

I have heard, though the grapevine, that the government is still planning on tying beer prices to alcohol content (ABV), in the name of public health and safety, because apparently us alcohol consumers just can't stop ourselves from over-consuming and we are all incapable of self-regulating.

Recommendation #18, in Parliamentary Secretary John Yap's BC Liquor Policy Review Final Report, submitted to Justice Minister and Attorney General, Suzanne Anton, states:
"LDB should consider tying minimum prices to the amount of alcohol (e.g., a beer with seven per cent alcohol would have a higher minimum price than a beer with four per cent alcohol)" 
When the new minimum price structure was announced last week, I thought maybe the Liberals were backing away from this recommendation, as I had heard from some reliable sources that Christy Clark and her crew were afraid of the public backlash related to increased liquor pricing, but that is obviously not true as the new minimum is taking its toll in those less affluent areas outside the Lower Mainland.

But if the info I received the other day is true, then those who enjoy some of the stronger beers out there on the market, which are usually craft beers, may be digging even deeper into their pockets to purchase those beers and not just in pubs and restaurants. If this recommendation is converted into policy, it will impact all beer, whether bought to be consumed in a licensed establishment or packaged product purchased to be consumed elsewhere,

It means growlers, which have escaped the new minimum drink price, will be impacted and depending on the policy and what it dictates some growler fills will increase.

Keep in mind this is 3rd-hand information and I have not had confirmed by the LCLB or LDB so this may not in fact be true. But if the government keeps caving to health advocates and anti-alcohol lobby groups, who are using scare tactics and meaningless statistics to try to get what they want, which is higher priced booze which is harder to access, I think this change to increase the price of stronger beers will become a reality.

No one knows exactly what is going to happen and when but after last Friday's happy-hour-minimum-price fiasco, I am very afraid of what what may coming down the pipe. The Liberals seem to like to pull these announcements out of a hat and the policies do not seem to be very well thought through in some cases, read booze in supermarkets.

CAMRA Vancouver has posted about beer-ABV issue and let their stance be known, which has shifted significantly sine the drink minimum announcement. Read what they have to say here.

I would recommend consumers get ahead of this. At the bottom of the CAMRA Vancouver post is all the contact information for government and the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch. If you want to let the Liberals know how pissed off you are with how they rolled out happy hour - and be clear that I am not against happy hour but with the minimum drink prices that were imposed - and want to head off any further price increases by letting them know enough is enough by e-mailing, tweeting.

If the beer consumers of BC do stand up and shout loudly, maybe we can make a difference.

One thing is clear, if we do not, we have no chance...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Will The BC Libs Risk Tax Revenue or Make a FUSS About Serving Sizes?

As most of you reading this will know, last week the BC Liberals announced policy changes that would allow BC licensees to have "happy hours" but the trade off was that there were new minimum drink prices put in place, the highest in Canada by the way, that would see the price of a drink increase for many BC alcohol consumers at their local water hole.

I will not go into how disgusted I am with this move that sees many paying 30% or more for a pint of beer in their local, but you can read my original post here and my open letter to Justice Minister & Attorney General, Suzanne Anton and her parliamentary secretary, John Yap, here.

I will tell you that Anton's assumption that there may be the "occasional case" where a licensee has to raise the price of there drinks is dead wrong, even in  grossly, overpriced Vancouver. I recently found a website that lists all drink specials in Vancouver and, for example, on a Monday there were 261 specials listed and out of those, I stopped counting at 20 those who would be in violation of the new policy.

What I am wondering at this point is if Anton & Co decide to stick with this ill-thought-out and misguided policy, where the minimum drink price is directly tied to the volume of the drink, is Anton going to press the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) to pay attention to serving sizes and enforce the LCLB policy that all licensees must provide a drink price and serving size list for all alcoholic beverages served in the establishment or is she just going to trust that these licensees, many of whom have been misleading consumers for years, are going to suddenly become honest about how much they are serving?

If she leaves the licensees to regulate themselves, she is leaving the fox in the hen house. Many licensees will manipulate the situation to suit themselves, claiming smaller serving sizes so they can have lower drink specials to draw people in and so as not to alienate their regular customers by raising the price of their pint by 30%. This obviously benefits the consumer but means government will miss out on alcohol tax revenue and I have never seen a government that does not take an interest in maximizing their tax revenue from consumers.

On the flip side of things, some will be claiming larger serving sizes than they are actually providing, as is the widespread practice now, so they can continue to gouge the consumer during their happy hours and now they can blame it on the government's new drink minimum.

The Campaign for Real Ale of BC (CAMRA BC), with their Fess Up to Serving Sizes (FUSS) Campaign, has been pushing for years to have the LCLB enforce this serving size list policy, and ensure the serving size volumes that are listed are accurate, but the LCLB and the BC Liberals have repeatedly said they don't care about serving sizes and that licensees can self-regulate in regards to complying with the serving size list requirement.

In fact, in a recent response to a letter by CAMRA BC suggesting that the serving size list policy be enforced and the government consider legislating that certified, marked glassware (indicating volume of the glass) be required, like in Britain and many European nations, our Justice Minister wrote:
"For public safety reasons a licensee's terms and conditions guide states the maximum serving sizes that an individual or group of people may order at any one time. In addition, the licensee must have a list available showing drinks, drink sizes and prices.  Beyond that, government's focus is not on the array of serving sizes found within the province.
Government's resources and focus lay heavily on public safety issues, such as over-crowding, minors accessing alcohol, public disturbance, illegal activities, and so forth.  It would be a burden for provincial liquor inspectors and police to measure glassware in addition to their other duties.  If a customer is not pleased with the service in an establishment, they have the choice of raising the issue with the licensee or taking their business to other bars or restaurants."
So if the government is not going to concern themselves with the size of drink an establishment serves, other than making sure they do not offer more than the legislated, maximum drink size, how are they going to enforce this new minimum and insure they are getting their fair share via alcohol tax?

Or more to the point, what the Hell is the point of the new policy if they have no way, or no desire to enforce it due to limited resources and limited desire?

I can imagine this conversation happening all over BC:

Liquor Inspector: "That looks like a pint glass and you are selling it for $4. You need to charge $5!"
Licensee: "Why you are mistaking, kind liquor inspector. That glass only holds 16 oz therefore the minimum I can charge is $4."
Liquor Inspector: "OK, I trust you completely. Thank you for clearing that up. Carry on"

Now that government revenue can potentially be compromised, maybe, just maybe, the LCLB liquor inspectors will be directed to take a little more interest in just exactly how much beer is in your glass and the practice of misrepresenting serving sizes will be eliminated.

Time will tell, and who knows what the government is thinking. By the looks of this, they really were misinformed and badly advised as to how this new policy would impact consumers and obviously, they did not think things through.

Also, as an aside, by advising customers that if they don't like getting defrauded and ripped off they should raise the issue with the licensee and/or take their business elsewhere and not bother the Justice Minister's office, is BC's top cop, the person charged with overseeing justice and law enforcement in this province, not condoning dodgy business practices and fraud?

It certainly seems she is not interested in making sure British Columbians get what they paid for but I could be mistaken as to what the Justice Minister condones and what she does not. I can only go by the e-mail I received.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Open Letter to Suzanne Anton & John Yap - Why Is My Happy Hour Beer This Week More Expensive Than My Regularly Priced Beer Last Week?

Dear Ms Anton and Mr Yap

I feel compelled to write you both about the recent announcement regarding the change in BC liquor policy that sets a new minimum drink price for alcohol in BC.

I will warn you that I am more than a little unhappy with this move as it means higher beer prices for myself and many other BC beer consumers. I find the change misguided and out of step with what BC beer consumers really want which is get a pint of beer at a fair price. I also feel the move is a knee-jerk reaction to pressure imposed on the government by special interest groups and a move that was not thought through as to how it will impact all of BC, not just the Lower Mainland and South Vancouver Island.

In short, the change is a step backwards in regards to "modernizing" BC liquor policy. By setting the new minimum price for beer at $0.25 per ounce for beer, BC is now has, as far as my research goes, the highest drink price minimum of all the provinces.

By setting these new price minimums, many British Columbians are going to see the price of their pint of beer increase from those in rural and remote areas to some in grossly, over-priced Vancouver. And I am talking about craft beer which is usually higher priced than the national, mainstream lager prices. Those who chose to consume these traditionally cheaper lagers are going to be hit even harder than craft beer drinkers.

Ms Anton, you were quoted as saying, "There may be the occasional case where consumers see a drink price go up. However, overall, we don’t expect consumers will see much of a difference in terms of drink prices. If anything, they will notice new happy hour drink specials offered by licensees, which weren’t allowed under the previous rules."

In the community I live in, Powell River, prices have no relation to those you find in the bigger urban areas and  I can tell you that by setting the price of a pint of beer at $5, many in my town are going to see the price of their beers rise by over 30%! This is in an area where good paying jobs are not easy to find and where many have a tight entertainment budget. I have traveled around BC enough to know this is going to be true in many other communities. My local, neighourhood pub previously sold a pint of craft beer at $4.50 with the tax included. I now will have to pay $5.75 with tax. And as I mentioned, those drinking the cheaper lagers will see an even bigger hit to their wallet. So great, my local pub can have a happy hour now where they are able to offer beers substantially more expensive this week than they were regularly before the policy change last week.

Your new happy hour minimum is going to create the need for many licensees, not just "the occasional case", like my local, to raise their regular prices and some to raise their existing daily special prices to comply with the law. I believe that you both have either misunderstood, or just ignored, the real wants and needs of the consumers of BC and instead have chosen to listen to special interest groups who have a specific agenda and who have been giving you "expert" advice aimed at getting what they want.

And they have gotten what they want, which is higher alcohol prices for many in BC.

Ms Anton, you were again quoted on the BC Newsroom web page as saying, "(I)mplementing minimum drink prices is an important part of our commitment to protect health and safety, as we move forward on modernizing B.C.’s liquor laws. In setting the minimum price, it was important to us that we listened to both industry and health advocates. We have done that and I believe establishing a $3 per drink minimum achieves a good balance for them, and for British Columbians.”

I do thank you for taking it upon yourself to look after my health and safety, but I, like many reasonable and rational adults in BC, who enjoy an alcoholic beverage responsibly, quite frankly do not require your supervision or imposed limits to protect myself from myself.

You already have laws in place to control and punish those who over-serve, serve intoxicated patrons and who do not comply to the Serving it Right Program, so why not focus on the offenders and not punish the rest who serve and consume alcohol responsibly. These laws, which are already quite restrictive and, if followed by the letter of the law, make it damn near impossible to get more than a drink or two in any licensed establishment especially in a short period of time like a happy hour.

I am thankful that common sense prevails over the letter of the law in most establishments.

Minimum pricing will take care of itself as licensees need to turn a buck on their sales. Yes, some establishments and consumers would take advantage and over-serve and over-consume if you truly offered the option of reasonably-priced drinks during happy hours, but is that not what you liquor inspectors are for?

I am afraid that you may have been hoodwinked by some of the health care and  industry advocates you had advising you and your team during this review who were, for their own reasons, pushing for higher alcohol prices. 

And I am perplexed why you did not have any consumer advocates advising you as to what the average British Columbian alcohol consumer wanted in regards to minimum prices and happy hours.

In regards to these advocates you were listening to, I will use the example Dr Lawrence Loh, Medical Adviser for Fraser Health and one of the health care advocates who has pushed the public safety and health perspective to your government regarding liquor policy changes and whom I had the chance to discuss liquor issues with on CBC Radio's "Early Edition" program. 

I do not want to pick on the doctor, as I am certain he does put a priority in the public health and welfare, but from my conversation with him it was clear to me he really did not have a solid argument for increasing prices and decreasing accessibility in regards to alcohol in BC as he contradicted himself, over-simplified complex issues and made alarmist statements. 

If he is an example of those you listened to, then it worries me to no end that the government is not getting a clear, accurate and full picture from these advocates. 

The good doctor was confronted with the fact that in other jurisdictions with more liberal liquor laws, such as Quebec, some US states and Europe, there do not seem to be any more alcohol-related problems than we have here where we have stricter laws, he stated we have to use caution when comparing BC to other jurisdictions due to the fact that those other jurisdictions may have different views towards alcohol and different "drinking cultures".  

Dr Loh, not two minutes later, was referring to unidentified studies, with vague references to statistics and "a large body of evidence", from "other jurisdictions", like Australia and the US, that proved decreased pricing. associated with happy hours and increased access to alcohol lead to all kinds of social evils and societal problems.

I was confused, as did the health care expert advocate seem to be.

Which is it? Can we look to other jurisdictions to support arguments and to help predict what may happen here, or not? 

I am more than a little concerned that someone who contradicts themselves so blatantly is one of the folks you have been listening to in forming policy that impacts all of BC.

Dr Loh also stated that alcohol was "responsible" for a variety of societal and health problems including  "mental health issues". 

Now as a Registered Psychiatric Nurse, who has worked in some of BC's most acute psychiatric units, I can tell you that this is a gross over-simplification, inaccurate and simply untrue statement in the majority of cases. Alcoholism is a very complicated disease and often there are social, cultural, economic factors at play as well as mental health factors in some cases. 

Yes, some with mental health issues do have alcohol issues but many do not. In fact, many suffering from mental health related problems I have worked with do not drink alcohol at all. And many with alcohol issues have no mental health issues whatsoever.

To say one is responsible for the other is naive or manipulative, depending on the intent. I am not sure where the doctor was coming from with that statement but as a Medical Health Officer, speaking to the public, he should know better than to make an alarmist statement like that.

Again, I am concerned if you are receiving advise and pressure from groups making public statements like this.

I have also seen statistics in the media from addictions experts and health care officials stating that approximately 37% of all people who present at hospital emergency rooms in BC have consumed alcohol with in 12 hours of arriving at hospital.

It is a powerful statistic if you do not apply any sort of critical thinking. Anyone who has taken even a rudimentary statistics course, or who has any common sense, can tell you it is a misleading and empty statistic unless more information is given about the type of study done, where, when and the methodology. It is also important to have the statistics put into context and have a complete picture. It is alarmist and again an attempt at manipulating the public when presented in the way it has been presented.

How many of those who had the drink within 12 hours arrived at hospital for something related to alcohol or as a result of intoxication or intoxicated behaviour?

We don't know because that vital information is not supplied.

How many had a cup of coffee within 12 hours? I am sure more than 37%, so does this mean coffee consumption is directly linked to ER visits? Ridiculous, isn't it? So is the unsupported statement related to alcohol.

And how many people in BC have a drink and do not present at an emergency room within 12 hours? I would be willing to bet in the range of 99% and if so, does that not indicate that drinking alcohol keeps you away from the ER?

Again ridiculous, but using the logic of the 37% statistic, it makes sense.

Oh statistics, they are so slippery and misleading when not all the information about the study and results are supplied.

And where did you get this new minimum price per ounce. It is much higher than say Quebec, Ontario and Alberta where I believe it is set around $0.16 per ounce, putting the minimum pint price at $3.20 pre-tax. Is there some empirically based evidence that these jurisdictions have significantly more alcohol-related woes therefore we need to set our minimum drink price higher?

Oh yeah, I forgot, I am not supposed to compare BC to other jurisdictions, as per the medical experts, or am I? I am confused.

As well, you have to look at the motivation for the "industry advocates" wanting these changes. Of course they want a high minimum drink prices if there is happy hour as it means more guaranteed money in their pockets from customers. It also cuts out the chance of the bigger, greedier chains and and corporations in the urban areas from having the annoyance of some smaller, independent businesses offering up great specials and under cutting them to try to stay afloat and lure business to their establishments.

Do you think ABLE cares about my local pub, or the hundreds of other small-town watering holes? Do you really think the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association care what happens in small-town, rural BC? Do you think they really represent those establishments that cater to the less affluent and less fortunate who want to get out once in a while for a beer to socialize?

If they did, they would have shouted very loudly about the fact that this move may in fact decrease business in some cases.

I hope you get a flood of letters like this from consumers complaining that they are now paying substantially more for their beer. And I hope you listen because you clearly are out of touch with the whole of BC in regards to this issue. BC liquor policy needs to make sense for all of BC. This policy negatively targets the less affluent and those licensed establishment who serve them, those who do not live in more expensive urban settings and businesses who do serve alcohol responsibly and by the letter of the law but do so at a price that is reasonable and attract patrons to their establishment.

Now, I am going to head down to my local for a pint to unwind and I will be having to take a $10 bill with me instead of $5 bill to pay for that beer. Thanks a lot for that. I am sure any others who may be there will be thanking you as well for the 30% increase to the cost of their pint.

Paddy Treavor
Unsatisfied British Columbian

Saturday, June 21, 2014

43% Price Hike Does Not Sound Like Happy Hour to Me

Friday afternoon the Liberals announced that BC alcohol licensees, as of the time of the announcement (read policy directive here),  are now free to have temporary drink specials, otherwise known as happy hour.

But before you run down to your local pub looking for a 2-for-1 special, know that with the new minimum
drink pricing of $0.25 per 28 ml (one ounce) that was tied to the happy hour announcement, many beer drinkers in BC will see the regular price of their pint increase significantly, especially in more rural areas of BC.

At $0.25 an ounce, a pint works out to $5 before tax. My local in Powell River, for example, charged, before yesterday, $4.50 a pint (yes a real pint), tax included, for craft beer on a regular basis. Now that price will have to increase to hit the new minimum standard.

I will now pay more for my pint at the minimum "happy hour minimum" price threshold, before tax, than I was on a regular basis, with tax included, in my local and many other establishments in my town.

Happy Hour my ass.

This situation is not atypical to my local as economies outside the Lower Mainland are completely unrelated to Vancouver and big city prices due to variety of reasons, like the lack of high paying jobs or the necessity to rely on seasonal work to make ends meet. This new minimum pricing did not take that into consideration, or the BC Liberals and their crew of civil servants and bureaucrats who wrote the policy just did not care that this price hike may mean less business for small town pubs and those establishments that cater to the less affluent here in BC and less opportunity for those with low income to get outside of the four walls of their homes to socialize over a beer at their local.

And in areas like the outrageously priced Vancouver, where a pint often can run $10 after tax and tip, those places with great daily specials, like Martini's on Broadway for instance where a pint is, excuse me, was $3.50 on Wednesdays, because the new minimum drink pricing they will have to increase their "special" prices.

Using Martini's as an example, the price hike will be 43%!

It is obvious that Justice Minister/Attorney General, Suzanne Anton, her Parliamentary Secretary, John Yap and those they charged with shaping the new BC liquor policy "modernization" caved to the pressure from special interest groups.

Certain hospitality industry associations have been pushing against happy hours from the start as increased competition from lower booze prices during happy hours means less dollars in the pockets of their members. Big chains do not want to have to compete with smaller, independent establishments which are more likely to lower their prices for happy hours in order to lure customers through their doors.

And I warned you all in the past to be wary of the fact that government were listening closely to health officials about minimum pricing for booze in BC.

Health authorities and their advocates have been pushing for higher booze prices and less access to alcohol from the start of this process using statistics from vague, unnamed studies and scare tactics to push their agenda forward. When I had the opportunity to discuss this issue on radio on CBC (scroll down to Oct 31st) head-to-head with Fraser Health Medical Officer, Dr Lawrence Loh, he ran out a stat that 37% of people who present at BC emergency departments have had a drink of alcohol within 12 hours arriving.

Sounds like a very ominous and telling stat.

My response - what percentage of people in BC who consume a drink of alcohol do not present at an emergency department within 12 hours? That is a stat I would like to see! I guarantee you it is the 99% or above range.

The good doctor had no response to that. Stats can be twisted and manipulated any which way in most cases, depending on how you pose the question.

Dr Loh, in response to me stating that alcohol in grocery stores work in many other jurisdictions, stated we have to be wary of using other jurisdictions and studies based in those jurisdictions to predict what will happen in BC because we may have different attitudes and a different culture in BC related to alcohol.

Actually, a great point, but then, to bolster his argument 5 minutes later, he started spouting off stats from studies done in other jurisdictions that supported his point of view, contradicting his warning not to look to other places where booze is viewed in a different light than conservative BC.

This happy hour-minimum pricing policy is an epic fail for consumers in many areas of BC. As with the issue of alcohol in grocery stores, John Yap and those involved in the process from the government side, have completely misunderstood or completely ignored the real wants and needs of the alcohol consumers in this province. I am not sure if they are believe their own bullshit that they are listening to consumers and giving consumers what they want because clearly, they are not.

The government has quietly backed away from their promise to tie beer prices to alcohol content and instead have just nailed everyone. At the end of the day, the BC Liberals are not modernizing anything. They are making changes that look great but really have no effect in reducing the Nanny State that exists in BC related alcohol policy.

Now, if you don't mind, I am going to head down to my local and celebrate the return of happy hour in BC by paying $1.50 or so more for my pint than I did on Thursday.

Thank you John Yap, Suzanne Anton and all of those involved in this asshattery called the return of happy hour to BC.