Friday April 18, 2014

Liquor policy, drip by drip

For a government that has always claimed to be business savvy, the B.C. Liberals are behaving in a most un-businesslike manner when it comes to liquor policy.

After uncorking plans last summer to review the provinces’s liquor laws, parliamentary
secretary John Yap held public consultations to determine what course he might follow.

The most consistent message Yap drew from those consultations was that many British
Columbians would like to see beer and wine sold in grocery stores. Anyone could have predicted that finding, since many B.C. residents have been doing just that for years when they cross the border and go shopping in Washington state.

Since then, Yap has been hinting at policy reform drip by drip, as though it might be too intoxicating for the public if he let it out of the bottle all at once. In October, he suggested that grocery stores might be allowed to sell beer and wine through in-store kiosks.

Last week Yap submitted 70 recommendations to Justice Minister Suzanne Anton, including one that calls for the expansion of beer, wine and spirit sales into grocery stores by the middle of next year.

That’s a concern, not only to those who oppose wider alcohol distribution from a public health standpoint, but for the whole of the private beer and wine industry created by liquor policy reform back in the days of Social Credit government.

Basically it fosters a climate of uncertainty making it difficult for businesses to plan ahead.

This is about convenience, we’re told, and what could be more important? Yet that’s exactly the point — all kinds of governmental matters are far more important than making it easier for people to purchase alcohol.

And where is the improved convenience when people would have to purchase their booze separately from the rest of their groceries? Consumers weren’t exactly clamouring for looser liquor sales before the Liberals brought it up.

What is the motive, then? You guessed it — the review is yet another smokescreen concealing the Liberal’s long-term ambition to get government out of the business of dispensing liquor. It was the same with their incongruous plan to privatize liquor distribution outlets in the province, a plan that was trumpeted far and wide before it was quietly abandoned.

Maybe Anton will do the same this time around.

We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by publisher Tim Shoults, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.

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