Reforming liquor laws about more than beer in grocery stores

ARMCHAIR MAYOR SAYS — All the media buzz today is about reforming B.C.’s liquor laws, because the deadline for giving input to a government website is tomorrow.

Thousands of comments have been submitted since John Yap, the MLA for liquor policy reform, opened the site several weeks ago.

MLA John Yap.

MLA John Yap.

Today’s front-page headline in The Kamloops Daily News is “Eggs, Milk… and Beer?” and the story opens with “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 being widely embraced.”

The online version is headlined “B.C. eyes booze with groceries.”

It’s true that much of the discussion around liquor-law reform has been about selling booze in super markets, but the issue is about much more than that. Here’s an Armchair Mayor column I wrote for The News back on September 26.



Back in the old days — and I remember them well — getting drunk was a challenge.

For one thing, there was no self-serve. Those of legal age lined up in a windowless B.C. Liquor Store and asked a clerk to get their spirit of choice off a shelf behind the counter.

There were no U-brews or neighbourhood pubs, only hotel “beer parlours.”

The beer parlours had two entrances — one for Ladies and Escorts and one for Men Only. As kids, we never questioned this; it just was. We didn’t know it was supposed to prevent single women of low repute from spreading VD (the spreading of VD, apparently, not having anything to do with men).

We hung out in the alley beside the hotel hoping we could score some bootleg Old Style, and one memorable night smuggled a bottle of contraband Smirnoff’s across “the line” (the Canada-U.S. border).

Liquor laws have come a long way since then — we’ve advanced from the Stone Age to the Victorian Era.

MLA John Yap, parliamentary secretary for liquor policy reform, has the job of finding out what people think about liquor laws. He’s opened a web page and, so far, much of the feedback has to do with buying booze in grocery stores.

People who live in the U.S. and Quebec can already do that. B.C., however, abounds with stupid liquor laws. British Columbians can’t buy craft beer at a farmer’s market. They can drink beer at a hockey game or a rock concert but not at a movie or on the beach. Liquor in B.C. is more expensive and strictly regulated than just about anywhere.

The notion that making it harder to buy alcohol lowers consumption is a myth. Since the early ‘60s when my friends and I were trying to act like grownups by going on an occasional Saturday night bender, alcoholism in Canada has dropped.

Putting beer and wine, and even hard liquor, on the shelves of grocery stores and gas stations isn’t going to turn us into a land of drunkards.

But, you say, the next thing you know there’ll be beer in vending machines on every street corner. Actually, that’s not unheard of.

In Japan, you can plug a few yen into a sidewalk vending machine on almost any block and pull out a cold beer. Maybe that’s carrying availability too far — an increase in under-age drinking has made the machines a public issue. But despite Japan’s reputation as a booze-loving country, the rate of alcoholism there is lower than Europe, the U.S. and Canada.

In B.C., we’re grateful for a Canada Day beer garden or a new rule allowing us to take our own bottle of wine (but not beer) into a restaurant as long as we pay a big corkage fee.

I’m not saying we should all start drinking more. Alcohol creates lots of problems, but I’m with the guy who commented on Yap’s website, “I have not seen Europe or the U.S. go up in flames due do a more 21st century view on how to handle liquor sales, as well as where it is allowed to be consumed or served.”

By the way, how pleasant it is to sit (or stand) in a pub in Scotland and see someone’s pooch lying beside a table while its owner enjoys a pint. I can find no research to prove that allowing canines in bars has caused a rise in alcoholism in either people or dogs.

About Mel Rothenburger (9481 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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