Liquor Policy Working Group Update

In September 2015, the Local Government Working Group on Liquor Policy, co-chaired by UBCM and the Province, met to discuss recent changes in provincial liquor policy and the impacts on local government.

The Local Government Working Group on Liquor Policy (Working Group) is the forum created for consultation and communication between the Province and local governments with respect to changes in liquor policy. Since the release of the Liquor Policy Review Final Report in January 2014, the Province has implemented 35 of the 73 recommendations included in the report, which seeks to modernize liquor laws in British Columbia.

For the reference of UBCM members, the Working Group’s discussions are summarized below.

Happy Hours

This 2014 policy change provided bars and restaurants the opportunity to set different drink prices during specified hours, with a minimum price limit established by the Province. After discussing some of the health and safety issues related to this policy, Working Group members noted that this initiative has helped boost restaurant sales in some municipalities.

Farmer’s Markets

Also implemented in 2014 was a provision enabling a licenced liquor manufacturer with an on-site store to apply for authorization to sell their products at a local farmer’s market. As of October 2, 2015, the Province has expanded this to include artisan markets and annual markets. For more information, please see Policy Directive 15-11 from the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch.

As a result of this policy change, some local governments realized that their zoning bylaws did not allow for sales of packaged liquor at farmer’s markets, artisan markets, or annual markets. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of a licensee to confirm that their sales activity complies with local bylaws. However, local governments looking to accommodate packaged liquor sales at farmer’s markets and similar events may wish to review their zoning bylaws.

Family Friendly Liquor-Primary Establishments

Pubs and similar liquor-primary establishments may apply to permit family-friendly dining, which permits the accommodation of minors until 10:00 p.m. at the latest. Provincial representatives explained that the use of an application-based process allows for the vetting of establishments prior to a permit being granted, as not all liquor-primary establishments are suitable for minors.

Special Occasion Licences

The Province discussed a number of changes to Special Occasion Licences (SOLs). The online application process for SOLs is now available across BC. Other SOL changes discussed included the new whole-site licensing policy for public SOLs, in most cases replacing the requirement to have a beverage garden; allowing spirits at public events; and permitting homemade and UBrew alcoholic beverages to be served at private events.

Liquor at Grocery Stores

While only two grocery stores sell BC wine at present, the Province has received several additional applications. In particular, the Working Group discussed rules around rezoning to allow for a licence holder to sell alcohol in a grocery store.

All-Ages Liquor-Free Events

The Province has eliminated the requirement to de-licence a liquor-primary establishment in order to hold an all-ages, liquor-free event on the premises. Instead, the new process requires a notice to the Province providing details of the event. During the event, the host establishment must not sell liquor.

Additionally, the Working Group considered a range of other issues:

  • off-site storage of alcohol;
  • transfer of alcohol between establishments;
  • patrons carrying liquor between adjoining establishments;
  • changes around alcohol sales at stadiums;
  • the mandatory display of social responsibility materials;
  • manufacturing lounges;
  • changes to the ‘Serving It Right’ regulations; and
  • ongoing consultations with businesses.

The Local Government Working Group on Liquor Policy welcomes local government feedback on the matters discussed above or any aspect of liquor policy in British Columbia. Questions or comments may be directed to Bhar Sihota, Policy Analyst.

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