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Liquor licence changes lack input: pub operator

Province makes too many changes without industry consultation, says Terry Friesen
Liquor Law change
Phil Ralph

The province needs to stop making sporadic changes to liquor licenses, according to a Victoria pub operator.

This week, a new regulation comes into effect that restricts some licensed venues from putting on all-ages shows. While the change doesn’t impact Victoria establishments, there is growing frustration in the industry due to a lack of dialogue with B.C.’s licensing branch.

“To me, liquor licensing is a franchise,” said Terry Friesen, director of the Strathcona Hotel, which counts the Sticky Wicket, Club 9ONE9 and Big Bad John’s as part of its operations on the corner of Douglas and Courtney streets in downtown Victoria.

“All of a sudden the province makes a change to the license without consulting the franchisees, that’s where the problem comes in,” he said. “The government keeps changing the rules of the game.”

The minister responsible for liquor, Rich Coleman, promised in October to bring forward legislative changes in the spring, after the Belfry Theatre was blindsided by a policy restricting it from holding a charitable wine auction.

A ministry spokesperson said numerous charities and non-profit groups have since expressed concern about the need for reform in liquor laws.

“We will continue to liaise with these groups as the changes are implemented,” a statement reads.

But what isn’t clear is whether Coleman plans to conduct a full review of liquor laws.

Formal industry and public consultation usually takes place after the government introduces legislation, said Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA Carole James, adding the province should have learned its lesson after the Belfry incident.

“If you make piecemeal changes and don’t have a discussion about the entire legislation, you can make impacts on other places you’re not aware of,” she said.

James called for a thorough review of provincial liquor law, and agreed it should include industry and public input.

“Coleman says he’s talked to people, heard from families, and that’s great, but why wouldn’t you include everybody in that discussion?”

For now, operators like Friesen will do their best to grow their businesses in the shadow of an unpredictable regulator.

“There’s a lot of very intelligent people in the private sector that hold these licences,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate (the province) doesn’t come and tap into the resources that are available to them.”

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