Liquor lotto and other changes phasing in

Penticton store owner questions how much changes will level the playing field between private and government stores.

A year of phased in changes to BC’s Liquor Control and Licensing Act, continues with two new bills this week, and a lottery to determine the queue for relocations, moves to other communities or i nto grocery stores.

Liquor stores throughout the province have had a month to enter the lottery, which was set up in advance of lifting the five-kilometre rule on April 1.

According to the province, the lottery system is set up to ensure fairness — each applicant will be given an equal chance at qualifying to relocate, understanding that the one kilometre rule will continue to play a large role in the assessment and approval of applications.

Randy Kowalchuk, co-owner of Fairview Liqour Store, said keeping the one-kilometre rule in play is a good idea, noting that “concentrating liquor stores like gas stations, one on every corner,” wouldn’t help anyone.

But April 1 is also the day other reforms remove a discount for private liquor and wine stores. Instead the Liquor Distribution Branch will resell at the same price to private and government liquor stores as well as independent and VQA wine stores.

Justice minister Suzanne Anton contends these changes create a level playing field between private and government stores. Critics of the plan question whether higher wholesale costs may end up squeezing profits for independent retailers like Kowalchuk.

He also questions how much many of the new provisions level the playing field, when government liquor stores still hold exclusive rights to sell to other license holders, like restaurants, pubs, events.

“They say they are levelling the playing field, but they are not allowing us to work on 40 per cent of the market,” said Kowalchuk, pointing out that even if a pub or restaurant operator also owned a liquor store, they wouldn’t be able to sell to their own operation.

Bill 27, a re-write of the Liquor Control and Licensing Act (LCLA) – modernizing outdated provisions and providing enabling amendments to address various review recommendations was also introduced on March 26.

Among other things, the re-write will create a broader class of special-event permits, making them more accessible, cutting red tape and furthering the popularity of special occasion licences, about 25,000 of which are issued each year.

“The Liquor Control and Licensing Act as rewritten will further our efforts to make liquor licensing more efficient, seamless and fair, to expand convenience in ways that consumers, businesses and charitable organizations support – such as by streamlining the special occasion licence application process and opening it up to event promoters – and to prevent illegal access to and consumption of liquor,” said Anton in a release.

The province also introduced the Special Wine Store Licence Auction Act, allowing the highest bidders access to a limited number of licences to sell B.C. wine off grocery store shelves. These are not newly created licences – they are dormant licences that B.C. will be looking to issue via an auction process.

“This will mean British Columbians will have an easier time picking up their favourite bottle of B.C. wine to go along with their groceries for dinner,” said Anton.

Kowalchuk agrees, noting that many people are pressed for time and will take the easiest route. It is also, he said, likely to take away a piece of the private liquor stores market, cutting the pie up into smaller pieces.

“People only have so much money they can spend on alcohol,” he said. “In markets that have gone to that, 70 to 80 per cent of the wine gets sold out of that component (grocery stores).”

Kowalchuk thinks the small wineries may also take a hit.

“I really feel sorry for the small producers, because the small producers are not going to get in the grocery store chain,” he said. “In Penticton and the Okanagan, those small producers are what makes the wine industry magic.

Penticton Western News