B.C. liquor laws finally effective

New liquor enforcement techniques seem to be working across the province

VICTORIA – Here’s a summer scene being played out all over North America. Family van pulls up to the corner store to stock up on a few camping essentials: pop, chips, hot dogs, a case of beer and a bottle of vodka.

Not in B.C. you say? It happens every day at rural agency liquor stores around the province. As with many other issues, there is one reality for urban B.C. and another for the rest of us. Selling booze in grocery stores would presumably create anarchy in B.C cities and towns, but villagers and their visitors somehow manage it, just as everyone does across the line in Washington or Alaska.

These rural agency stores are “flyspeck operators,” sniffs an acquaintance who spent his career as a union activist in government liquor stores. Picture dusty old bottles on a rickety shelf, greedy owners and poorly trained clerks more likely to sell to underage drinkers.

Similar generalizations can be heard about the hundreds of private liquor stores that have popped up around B.C. since they were legalized. And in fact there have been more violations in private stores, revealed in sting operations run by liquor inspectors. In the year ended March 31, 54 private stores were caught selling to a minor, for an 84 per cent compliance rate. Only four government stores were caught, a pass rate of 96 per cent. Five rural agency stores were tested, and one flunked.

But here is the telling statistic. In 2010, the government allowed liquor inspectors to employ actual minors to test stores. Previously, they hired people who looked young but were old enough to buy alcohol. As late as 2009, two out of three stores (government or otherwise) sold to them. Problem is, that’s not an actual offence.

Now liquor inspectors send in undercover teens, and relieve them of the evidence when they are allowed to buy booze. The watchdog now has teeth, and compliance has jumped.

The government glossed over the poorer performance of private stores. But in fairness, three times as many private stores as government ones were targeted in the new inspections, and the gap is narrow. Government stores also have a huge built-in financial advantage in their wholesale rate, and are generally overstaffed by private sector standards.

The B.C. Liberals also moved this spring to make rural agency stores easier to establish. Regulation changes brought the minimum population served from 300 down to 200, and eliminated a vague requirement for a “bona fide community” to exist around the store.

Meanwhile, the big booze story this year is cabinet minister Rich Coleman’s plan to sell B.C.’s warehouse and distribution monopoly to a private contractor. The B.C. Government Employees’ Union has protested, despite assurances that their jobs will continue. B.C.’s burgeoning craft beer industry has looked to Alberta’s all-private model and predicts higher costs.

The B.C. Liberal government has been on the defensive from the start, with the NDP pointing to the paper trail of lobbyists with an apparent inside track. It’s great politics, but it matters little to consumers in an increasingly competitive but heavily taxed business.

Another new regulation took effect this summer, creating a $525 fine for adults serving minors, on the job, at home or as a bootlegger. Parents who provide booze for their own underage children are exempted. Previously, penalties applied only to licensed establishments.

If the issue really is public safety and teen binge drinking, the key job for government is to regulate sales effectively. Once that is done, no justification remains for government liquor sales.

tfletcher@blackpress.ca

 

 

Just Posted

Chinese Culture to light up 2019 Victoria Day Parade

Groups hopes Greater Victorians ‘view the culture, embrace the friendship’

Struggling Victoria adoption agency elects new board that intends to keep it open

The previous board announced that Choices would close May 31

Royal and McPherson Society pleads its case to Victoria council

‘Dark days’ at Royal, user groups’ weekend priorities make scheduling other entertainment challenging

Uplands Park champion to earn provincial award

B.C. Community Award for Margaret Lidkea coincides with Sunday’s volunteer celebration

Oak Bay Sgt. struggles through emotional testimony in double murder trial

Andrew Berry is charged with second-degree murder in deaths of daughters Chloe (6) and Aubrey (4)

VIDEO: Killer whales hunt for seals in Vancouver harbour

Bigg’s killer whales feed on marine mammals like seals, sea lions, dolphins and even other whales

Wanted by Crime Stoppers

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Do you think the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris should be rebuilt?

Images of one of the word’s most iconic landmarks were seared into… Continue reading

VIDEO: B.C.’s waving granny gets incredible send-off from school kids

Tinney Davidson has been waving at students on their way to school for over 11 years, but is moving in a month

Island-born Snowbirds pilot enjoying homecoming in skies over Comox

Logan Reid once stood clinging onto the fence outside the Comox Air… Continue reading

Attack on student in Courtenay ‘way more than bullying’, says mom

A Comox Valley mother said “it was way more than bullying” at… Continue reading

Vancouver man, 19, charged in human trafficking case involving teen girl

The 16-year-old girl was reported missing and later discovered in Vancouver

Blaine, Wash. inn owner, charged with smuggling people into B.C., granted bail

Robert Joseph Boule ordered to turn away anyone indicating a plan to enter Canada illegally

Most Read