VICTORIA – British Columbians will soon be able to buy wine and beer at the same grocery store where they pick up their eggs and bread.
Attorney General Suzanne Anton introduced amendments to B.C.’s Liquor Control and Licensing Act on Thursday that reforms and modernizes the province’s outdated liquor rules.
The legislation results from the Liberal government’s year-long liquor policy review that produced 73 recommendations, of which the government said it accepted every one.
Thursday’s legislation will implement 15 of the 73 recommendations, including a model to allow alcohol sales in grocery stores due by next winter.
“Our government will be adopting a unique and flexible framework for liquor sales in grocery stores,” Anton said at a news conference prior to introducing the amendments in the legislature.
“Our two-part model is one that will bring convenience and selection, something that British Columbians told us that they are looking for,” she said. “The model comes with built it safeguards, keeping with our commitment to protect health and public safety and to make sure our minors don’t have easy access to alcohol.”
Anton said the changes will not result in alcohol sold in every grocery store in the province because the government will continue to restrict the total number of liquor outlets in B.C.
She said alcohol sales will not be permitted in convenience stores.
“That’s a step too far,” she said. “We’re not going in that direction.”
But she said grocery customers will be able to use one shopping cart to buy alcohol and groceries, but will end up using two check outs — one for their groceries, the other for alcohol.
Anton said the amended liquor laws permit the transfer and sale of liquor licences, prompting Opposition New Democrat liquor modernization critic Shane Simpson to suggest sales of liquor licences could reach premium prices but could leave smaller markets dry.
“They may create a situation where small communities lose their licences because they are extremely valuable,” he said.
Simpson said he’s concerned the government decided to serve up the liquor changes in instalments, leaving the industry confused about timing and directions.
“We don’t know what we are dealing with here,” said Simpson, who called the amendments “shallow populism.”
Anton said the first phase of the changes will see alcohol sold at farmer’s markets by this summer, happy hours with special drink prices and alcohol zones at festivals without the usual fencing.
The amendments will permit B.C. liquor manufacturers to offer products for sample and sale at farmer’s markets.
Happy hours will allow liquor licence holders to offer time-limited drink specials, but the price cannot drop below minimums accepted by health advocates, Anton said.
She said the amendments include allowing golf courses and ski hills to temporarily extend their licensed areas to another part of their property to permit alcohol sales near ski lifts or patios near the gold club house.