British Columbians are clamouring for liquor sales in grocery stores, said John Yap, B.C.’s liquor policy reform czar, during a news conference on Tuesday.
But the idea is far from widely embraced. Opponents say criteria for changing policies should go beyond “it’s popular.”
“Alcohol is no ordinary commodity and shouldn’t sold as one,” said Roxanne Engli, Kamloops Mothers Against Drunk Driving representative. “The more easily accessible alcohol is, the more problems you’re going to have with it. Any place where they’ve put alcohol in grocery stores around B.C., it’s met with catastrophe.”
Nonetheless, the Liberals said they’re seriously weighing the option after 80 per cent of respondents put booze sales in grocery stores at the top of their wish list during an ongoing liquor policy review.
“Having the ability to pick up a favourite bottle of wine while buying their milk and eggs in a grocery store, that’s the convenience that British Columbians have said that they would like,” said Yap.
Quebec, Nova Scotia and Ontario all have some forms of liquor sales in stores, which B.C. will examine before considering the concept further.
Yap said the policy change could involve maintaining a cap on the current number of liquor outlets.
The Liberals have embarked on a review to modernize and update the province’s liquor laws. British Columbians have until Thursday to provide input for a report that Yap will submit to Justice Minister Suzanne Anton on Nov. 25.
He said any legislation coming out of the efforts would not be debated until at least the spring parliamentary sitting.
Opinion from private liquor stores in Kamloops range from outright opposition to mere apprehension.
“It could be tragic or it could be a bonus,” said Al Deacon, owner of the Sahali Liquor Store. “We didn’t really believe it was going to go this route so we haven’t really given it much consideration.”
Lansdowne Central Liquor Store manager Ileene Nielsen was more certain.
“I think it would hurt us a lot and I don’t think they should be doing it,” she said. “If we our business gets cut down, we start laying off, right?”
The argument that it’s more convenient for consumers doesn’t hold much weight for Nielsen.
“Cooper’s (grocery store) is at one end of the mall we’re at the other end,” she said. “How much more convenient do you want it, really? And most places are like that.”
Her sentiments echoed that of B.C. Alliance of Beverage Licensees spokesman Ian Baillie.
“It’s virtually impossible to find a grocery store in this province that is not 100 to 200 feet away from a liquor store,” he said.
The B.C. Government Employees Union was also against the idea on the grounds of public safety, according to treasurer Stephanie Smith.
“Selling alcohol isn’t just about convenience, it’s also about balancing social responsibility. And records have shown that government liquor stores have been most effective at preventing sale of alcohol to underage drinkers.”
Smith said she didn’t believe the impact on unionized workers would be that great since selection, pricing and faith in government outlets would keep them viable.
“We actually have over 1,000 liquor stores in British Columbia and we’re not hearing an outcry for more,” she said.
Kamloops consumers were also divided on the topic.
“I lived in Arizona and never experienced any problems with it. I can see the concerns with it though,” said Dale Robinson while shopping with his three-year-old son Ashley.
“The grocery store would make it easier for kids to get some — instead of walking into the liquor store, where as soon as they walk in, they’re escorted right back out.”
Kamloops resident Norm Button said he lived in Quebec for years and never found the sale of beer and wine at corner stores, or “dépanneurs,” to be a problem. Button also rejects the notion that it will make booze more accessible to kids.
“Kids are very inventive and they can get liquor if they want liquor.”
Copper’s shopper Pam Hoffman said she was strongly opposed to the idea.
“I don’t like it,” she said. “It causes enough problems as it is. We don’t need it in there.”