Wine will be sold at the Sahali Save-On as long as it’s grown in B.C. and bears the Vintners Quality Alliance marking.
After three hours of hearing delegations and reconsidering the issue — and months of kicking it back and forth — council voted 5-1 to allow a B.C. VQA wine store at Save-On-Foods Tuesday.
Ultimately, one of the deciding factors in the outcome was public pressure, which was overwhelmingly in favour of allowing grocery store sales of B.C. VQA products. Of 142 letters received on the zoning variance, only four opposed the move.
The decision is a reversal of a 5-2 decision against the variance in May, a controversial decision based in part on an ambiguous application, confusion for which the proponent accepted some responsibility.
“It came across kind of sleazy, and you know that,” Coun. Tina Lange told Steve Moriarty, Overwaitea’s head of B.C. wine sales. She was clearly miffed about the headaches the confusion caused for council, which suffered the wrath of grocery wine supporters.
The wording, which previously included wine and spirits made from B.C. products, came from a government website, Moriarty explained.
“In hindsight, maybe it would have made things easier,” he said.
“You think?” Lange said. “You were asking for something completely different.”
“I think we were grasping for a definition we didn’t have,” Moriarty said.
With clarification and reassurances, some councillors were prepared to switch their votes, including Lange.
Coun. Marg Spina, who was instrumental last year in bringing in the one-km distance rule for new liquor outlets, said the issue had been clarified to her satisfaction. Coun. Donovan Cavers, who got a firsthand demonstration of Save-On security measures from store manager Ernie Cordonier, said his concerns over potential trade challenges were also addressed.
With Coun. Pat Wallace away, that left only Coun. Denis Walsh to stand his ground, arguing the provincial government’s unfair handling of liquor regulation reform.
“This is a totally new retail environment,” Walsh said. “I’m totally open to competition, but this is not a level playing field. To me, this is more about profit,” bringing increased alcohol consumption, increased tax revenue and higher social costs, he said. “I think we may live to regret this change.”
Councillors Dieter Dudy and Ken Christian remained supporters of the variance throughout. Dudy read a prepared defence: "We aren't here to parent but to guide the city into the future."
“Irrespective of what you might think, I think we have to recognize the 400 employees of Overwaitea Food Group who live within and pay taxes in the City of Kamloops,” said Christian.
Liquor regulation in B.C. leaves much to desire, “but the provincial government is trying to fix it and let’s give them credit,” he added.
Though Cavers changed his stand, he wasn’t accepting that version of events.
“I think the province has done a complete belly flop on the rollout of this,” he said.
Along with Walsh, he maintains the province failed to consult municipalities on the relaxation of liquor retailing in the province.
Private retailers feel much the same way and several were on hand Tuesday to watch first hand a widely anticipated outcome.
“We’re not selling milk, we’re selling alcohol,” said Duane Hemmings, owner of the Westsyder Pub, which has a beer and wine store. The motivation is pure profit, he said, objecting to the soft pedalling of grocery store sales.