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B.C. municipalities to voice non-negotiable demand in liquor law reforms

The B.C government is asking the public for ideas before it brings in a new liquor act next spring.

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B.C. municipalities are happy to be at the table for the planned liquor law reforms, but are settling in for talks with one non-negotiable demand. Mary Sjostrom, president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, said governments don't want to lose any of their powers over liquor and alcohol policy, including the controls around zoning and licensing.

"We just don't want to lose what we have," said Ms. Sjostrom, also the mayor of Quesnel. "We want to be at the table and be consulted as to what changes might be being considered."

She welcomed the broader consultation: "I think it's a good shift."

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The B.C. government is opening up its efforts to change outdated liquor laws by requesting feedback from key industry groups and stakeholders. The effort is being managed by MLA John Yap, the parliamentary secretary for liquor policy reform, whose review is to look at all aspects of liquor policy in B.C., including licensing, control and distribution.

Raymond Louie, the Vancouver city councillor who heads the city finances and services committee, suggested the last draft of Mr. Yap's conclusions should be vetted by municipalities so they can understand the possible impact. "If they come up with some sort of ideas that might either expand or contract liquor service in our city, we want to be asked for our opinion on that," Mr. Louie said.

He said the city is wary about any provincial action that would interfere with Vancouver's recent moves toward patio expansions.

But Mr. Louie said specific Vancouver policy requests hinge on a yet-to-be completed internal policy review on alcohol and liquor issues. He said city staff are being asked to expedite work on that process to come up with material to inform Vancouver's position with the province.

"The other asks from the city will have to come through a more formal process of a review from staff," he said. "That is underway right now."

He said he is confident of a chance to get a hearing from Justice Minister Suzanne Anton and Mr. Yap. "I run into Ms. Anton and Mr. Yap often," he noted.

Timeline of B.C. liquor laws:

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1917 – Prohibition takes effect, remains until 1921.

1921 – Government Liquor Act is passed. It sets drinking age at 21 and drinking in public is banned. Those who wish to purchase liquor must first buy $5 annual permit, and interdiction lists prevent stores from selling to certain people.

1923 – First B.C. winery gets its licence. It makes loganberry wine and is located in Saanich.

1925 – First beer parlours, located in hotels, are licensed. Customers must sit while they drink. Many parlours ban women.

1927 – New policy requires separate area for women.

1954 – Parlours can serve sandwiches.

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1960 – Vodka no longer banned. Its lack of odour had raised concerns about juvenile delinquency.

1962 – First self-serve liquor stores open. Women allowed to work in stores for first time.

1970 – Inquiry commission recommends liberalizing liquor policies due to changing social attitudes. Drinking age lowered to 19. Liquor sales allowed on Sundays in restaurants with meal.

1974 – Neighbourhood pubs permitted. Customers allowed to stand in all licensed establishments.

1986 – All licensed establishments can open on Sundays, on pilot basis for Expo 86. Policy continues after fair ends.

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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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