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


  1. To Dear Ms Anton and Mr Yap, we are sorry we asked for Happy Hour and didn't realize that meant you would raise the price of alcohol in bars. Please strike that recommendation off the list and revert back to the previous laws. You have already killed Happy Hour before it had a chance to start, so that's ok we don't want your version of Happy Hour. I guess its a case of be careful what you wish for...

  2. Thanks for this Paddy and I hope your readers will "Like" my Facebook Page - Fix BC Happy Hour to put pressure on the BC government! It's at:

  3. Bill, I am happy to support the cause as I think this is an EPIC fail. I have suggested to many of my Facebook friends to like you page and many have. Thanks for helping raise awareness that this move is NOT OK with BC alcohol consumers

  4. Anton and Yap are insane. They impose pricing minimums, presumably to "protect" against bars offering fire-sale prices on drinks during happy hours, right? But the reason we did not have happy hours before is because the law would not allow an establishment to change the price twice in the same day. You could do it once in a day or have an all day special/discount. Why did we not need mandatory minimum pricing rules for an ALL DAY discount but we do for a time limited (like a couple of hours) time period? Do these people possess a shred of logic?