Liquor Policy Working Group Update

On June 23, 2016, the Local Government Working Group on Liquor Policy, co-chaired by UBCM and the Province, met to discuss recent changes in provincial liquor policy, the provincial timeline for implementation of all Liquor Policy Review recommendations, and upcoming opportunities for local government input.

The Local Government Working Group on Liquor Policy 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 42 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.

Special Occasion Licence Changes

In addition to changes that have already taken place (e.g. new online application process), the Province is looking at permitting businesses to obtain Special Occasion Licences (SOLs) to raise funds for charity, and to remove the regulation that requires non-profit organizations to apply for SOLs. The latter will place the burden of responsibility for these events on licensees, which would be businesses such as promoters. The Province has released a consultation paper requesting feedback on this issue (deadline is July 15, 2016).

Hotel Policy Changes

The Province consulted Working Group members on the benefits and drawbacks related to allowing hotel patrons to carry liquor throughout designated areas of the hotel; in particular, allowing patrons to bring a drink from a licenced establishment (owned by the hotel) within the hotel to their rooms. Although these changes would be optional, several local governments were concerned about patrons taking alcohol outside designated areas. Others welcomed the change, as it was noted that the majority of responsibility would rest with the hotel.

Liquor Policy Review Update

Implementation of the 73 LPR recommendations has gone more slowly this year than last, and currently stands at 42 changes complete.  Provincial staff are working on regulations for the new Liquor Control and Licensing Act, which once complete will bring about the implementation of 15 more LPR recommendations. The provincial timeline has the new Act and regulations being finished and in place by early 2017.

Wine on Shelves Auction Update

In April 2016, the Province auctioned off six opportunities to apply for licences to sell 100% BC wine on grocery store shelves. The subsequent 60 day period for winners to submit their licence applications is close to expiring, with none having yet been submitted. Although the Province is not permitted to release the name and location of auction winners, due to the zoning approvals required for an application to proceed, it is expected that affected local governments will know a successful applicant’s identity earlier than the public.

Food and Liquor Primary Licence Changes

At the March 2016 Working Group teleconference, members discussed two LPR recommendations that could allow food-primary enterprises to transition away from food service at a certain hour, and make food- or liquor-primary licences available to other types of establishments (e.g. schools, spas) to produce alcohol for clients. Members’ concerns about certain businesses using a licence for unintended purposes (e.g. spa turning into a nightclub) without any public consultation were alleviated when the Province noted that any structural changes would trigger an opportunity for public feedback.

Changes to Licence Retail Store Relocations

After eliminating the 5 kilometre rule for liquor retailers looking to relocate outside a local jurisdiction, provincial staff have received a number applications for relocating a Licensee Retail Store.  The one kilometre rule, disallowing a liquor store to be within one kilometre of another liquor store, has led to complaints that some licensees are making “placeholder” applications (without actually opening an establishment) to ensure competitors do not open in a certain area.

Parallel Process Update

Over the past five months, the Province has been consulting local governments on a new process to streamline the liquor application process. The Province has recently sent out a draft application form and associated guide, and Q&A document to Working Group members and others who have participated in the feedback process. Local governments who did not receive the documents and would like to provide feedback may contact Bhar Sihota, UBCM Policy Analyst before July 7, 2016.

Standalone Patios

Although current policy does not allow standalone patios, the Province is considering a policy change to permit food- or liquor-primary businesses to operate entirely outdoors. Members discussed land use and permit implications, opportunities for public input, and local government areas of control (e.g. washroom requirements). The Province is still in the early stage, and is unsure when they will have a draft policy.

Liquor Primary Relocations

The Working Group discussed liquor-primary (LP) establishments moving within a community, and the current policy of cancelling a licence and applying for a new licence. Members also discussed impacts to offsale privileges, which some LP’s have through a grandfather clause. At this point, there is no indication that changes will be made to this policy, which only allows LP relocation within a reasonable walking distance (all other movement must involve a new application).

Production of Liquor Without a Licence

This potential policy change is targeted towards businesses that produce alcohol but may not necessarily require regulatory oversight (e.g. certain equipment operators and education facilities). The Province is looking at allowing these businesses, under a narrow set of circumstances, to produce alcohol that cannot be sold (only produced for education- or equipment-related purposes).

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, UBCM Policy Analyst.

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