Liquor Policy Changes Underway

Legislation has been introduced to implement major changes to BC liquor policy.   The legislation is intended to speed up the approval process for liquor licences and allow some grocery stores to sell BC wines.  Local government will need to review its policies and zoning related to liquor licensing to ensure that they reflect the new legislation.

The Province has brought forward two bills the Liquor Control and Licensing Act (Bill 27) and the Special Wine Store Licence Auction Act (Bill 22).  The first bill is expected to improve the liquor licensing application process.  The second bill is intended to create an equal playing field in determining the sale of BC wine in a select number of local grocery stores.

The new liquor Act allows for both the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch and local government to consider the application for a liquor license concurrently, previously local government would wait for the province to undertake a “fit and proper assessment” before considering an application.  Local government will also be able, by bylaw, to delegate its liquor licensing authority to staff.  These two changes are intended to speed up the decision making process and will require greater coordination between the Branch and local government to avoid potential conflicts around liquor policy decisions.

While there have been some changes, local government will continue to have the right to decide whether or not a liquor application or changes are approved, provided it meets the consultation requirements laid out in the Act.  The Province has indicated in the new legislation that it will not approve an application or amendment that has not been recommended by a local government.  The local government will also have the ability to impose fees on the applicant to recover the costs incurred in assessing the application.

In the case of the second bill, it sets a framework for determining how special wine store licences will be allocated.  The Auction will determine the order in which the application will be considered and how potential conflicts between bidders may be addressed.  There are currently 21 stores in the Province that exclusively sell VQA products and may be eligible to sell BC wine on a grocery store shelf.  The sale of BC wines in local grocery stores could prove to be controversial as it may be challenged under either the North American Free Trade Agreement or Canada-European Community Wine and Spirits Agreement.   

The Province intends to implement the 71 recommendations outlined in the Liquor Policy Review released in 2014.  These changes will expand access to liquor through the expansion of the number of special occasion licences, hours of operation of government liquor stores, and the expansion of liquor sales in grocery stores, through on the shelf sales or a store within a store model.  Local government will need to ensure it is prepared to deal with community concerns that may arise as these changes are implemented.

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