Top 15 Interesting Recommendations from BC Liquor Policy Review

Business Law

On January 31, 2014, the Ministry of Justice released its B.C. Liquor Policy Review – Final Report. The report contains 73 recommendations intended to develop a balanced approach to protecting public health and safety, provide more convenience for consumers, and streamline regulations for the industry. The recommendations are organized into the following five main categories:

  1. Health, Safety and Social Responsibility;
  2. Retail and Convenience;
  3. Economic Growth, Jobs, Tourism and Marketing;
  4. Licensing and Cutting Red Tape; and
  5. Change Management

We found the following 15 recommendations to be particularly interesting:

Recommendation #4. The Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) should have the regulatory authority to require social responsibility public education material to be posted in all licensed establishments and liquor stores. These materials should be developed in consultation with industry.

Recommendation #7. Serving it Right (SIR), the provincial government’s responsible beverage service program, should be expanded and enhanced:

a. Sales and service staff in restaurants, wine stores, rural agency stores and BC Liquor Stores who are not already required to have SIR certification should now be required to obtain it. Licensees, managers, and sales and serving staff should also be required to recertify.

b. A focused, abridged and less expensive version of SIR should be developed for people who receive Special Occasion Licences (SOLs) or who serve at these events. This will help ensure they understand their responsibilities around responsible handling of liquor.

c. SIR content should be updated to include information about:

i. Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines.
ii. the social and health costs of alcohol.
iii. why alcohol is regulated.

d. SIR should continue to ask recent graduates to evaluate the program, with the aim of developing and introducing improvements.

Recommendation #13. LCLB should work with police agencies to explore implementing “last drink” programs across B.C. on a more concerted basis. If an impaired person’s last drink was in a licensed establishment, LCLB can investigate and possibly levy penalties for overserving clients.

Recommendation #16. Permit licensees to offer time-limited drink specials (e.g., happy hours), provided the price is not below a prescribed minimum consistent with those supported by health advocates.

Recommendation #19. The Province should develop and implement a retail model that meets consumer demands for more convenience by permitting the sale of liquor in grocery stores. Government should continue to restrict the total number of retail outlets and require separation of grocery products and liquor. This reflects the views of health and safety advocates and the acknowledged safety benefits of restricting minors’ access to liquor.

Recommendation #23. [Liquor Distribution Branch] should improve its marketing of B.C. liquor products in stores, developing new opportunities for product placement and innovative promotional and educational materials.

Recommendation #29. Government should consult with the Agricultural Land Commission about amending the Agricultural Land Commission Act regulations to allow manufacturers operating within the Agricultural Land Reserve to allow more people in consumption areas (e.g. lounges) and to sell liquor that was not produced on site.

Recommendation #31. Government should permit B.C. liquor manufacturers to offer products for sample and sale at temporary off-site retail locations (e.g., farmers’ markets), with appropriate conditions. The decision about whether to allow vintners, brewers and distillers to showcase their products at a particular location will be left to the location management (e.g., farmers’ market association).

Recommendation #34. Minors, if accompanied by a parent or guardian, should be permitted in certain liquor-primary establishments.

Recommendation #38. The liquor-primary and food-primary licence classes for on-premise consumption should be retained, with the following significant changes: Food- or liquor-primary licences should be available to other types of businesses, allowing a range of new establishments (e.g., spas, cooking schools, and galleries) to offer liquor to their clientele as an additional service.

Recommendation #44. Government should create an annual SOL for organizations that hold occasional meetings or activities throughout the year. Licence holders could store unconsumed liquor for future events. The licence holder would be required to ensure the safe transport and storage of unconsumed liquor product.

Recommendation #54. Government should consult with clubs to determine if there is interest in repealing the club designation, and reclassify the licence as food-primary or liquor-primary.

Recommendation #55. The provincial government should introduce a new licence class and streamlined application process for facilities (e.g., stadiums, arenas and theatres) that charge a fee for an event (e.g., a sporting event or play). Minors should be permitted to stay until the event ends.

Recommendation #61. Individual establishments that are part of a larger company (e.g., chain outlets) should be able to transfer small amounts of liquor between locations.

Recommendation #73. Ensure that [the] recommendations, when taken in total, represent a significant reduction in red tape for businesses in the liquor industry in B.C., to support economic development.

The Report’s recommendations (view all 73 recommendations) reveal the firmly held public view that alcohol sales in British Columbia do not meet the needs or expectations of most consumers. It will be interesting to see if the regulation of the B.C. liquor industry moves towards a more ‘European’ model of liquor distribution and consumption where consumer convenience and self-regulation move to the forefront, leaving the red tape and bureaucratic ‘nanny state’ mentality by the wayside. View the full Final Report.

Paul Kennedy
Associate Lawyer in Corporate/Business Law
LK Law – Langley Law Firm