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B.C. ponders selling liquor in grocery stores

Bottles of beer on display at a private retailer in Montreal in August 2004.

Andre Pichette/The Globe and Mail

The B.C. government is considering allowing the sale of liquor in retail stores. The idea has come about in a review of B.C.'s liquor laws, including 84 days of consultation with stakeholders that continues until Oct. 31.

The province will look carefully at the best models across North America to balance health, safety and convenience, John Yap, the parliamentary secretary for liquor policy reform, told a news conference on Tuesday.

"There is one theme that has been resoundingly popular with British Columbians, and that is the ability to buy liquor at grocery stores," Mr. Yap said. "The idea of selling beer and wine, particularly in grocery stores, has been such a popular one that we are going to start exploring which models might work for B.C."

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The B.C. debate echoes developments in other provinces, which are questioning their policies in liquor control. The Ontario government, for example, has recently said it won't allow the sale of beer and wine in convenience stores, rejecting calls for such an approach from store owners. Still, the province is going to put Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores in 10 grocery stores as a pilot project.

The B.C. Liberals have been advancing reforms to what it has described as outdated liquor and alcohol laws, largely under Rich Coleman, the deputy premier.

That led to criticisms from the NDP opposition that the Liberals were taking a piecemeal approach to the issue. Since the May election, however, reform is proceeding with Mr. Yap handling the file under Justice Minister Suzanne Anton.

Mr. Yap said other ideas advanced by those responding to the consultation include allowing craft beer and wine sales at farmer's markets, a more streamlined application process for special-occasion licences, and allowances for parents to bring their children into a Legion or pub. He said he will include all of these proposals in a report to Ms. Anton that he will file by Nov. 25, leading to legislative action next spring when the House resumes sitting.

A spokesman for B.C.'s private liquor stores said the organization opposes grocery store liquor sales, both on safety and economic grounds.

"The model we have now is working extremely well for British Columbians," said Ian Baillie, Alliance of Beverage Licensees of B.C. spokesman. "It's virtually impossible to find a grocery store in this province that is 100 to 200 feet away from a liquor store."

Mr. Baillie said British Columbians are well-served by private and public liquor outlets and an overstocked supply of liquor outlets raises health and business concerns. He said there are currently 1,400 liquor outlets in B.C.

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Private liquor stores employ 15,000 people, Mr. Baillie said. He said the government's review of expanding liquor sales to grocery stores should go beyond the criteria that "it's popular."

Mr. Yap said the policy review will focus on health and safety concerns, which could involve maintaining a cap on the current number of liquor outlets, but allow liquor operations to set up shop within grocery stores.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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