By COUN. DENIS WALSH
IT HAS BEEN most interesting, to say the least, to see how many emotionally charged, misguided personal attacks have been directed at me and other councillors over our positions on Save-On Foods selling alcohol in their grocery aisles.
Just to help clarify a few misconceptions, there have been many changes to the liquor distribution act over the past several years that are not very well known. For example, the older VQA licences have recently morphed into Specialty Wine Store (SWS) style licences, for undisclosed reasons. This new classification makes it potentially much more challenging for our local VQA wineries to get shelf space when grocery chains buy up VQA licences, because under SWS, stores can sell all B.C.- made wines, coolers, and sake, not just local VQA wines.
Therefore, the original Save-On variance request to council did not represent a simple transfer of the VQA permit from one owner to another, but opened the license to much more. This has now been amended, because of council resistance, but the outstanding problem continues to be that Save-On is requesting to sell wine on its grocery aisles, not in a store-within-a-store.
Why is this a problem?
Because, after an extensive B.C. liquor policy review that produced 73 recommendations, this key policy #19 was adopted as official policy by our very own B.C. Liberal government: “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 minor’s access to liquor.”
When the Save-On representative was asked by Council if they would consider putting VQA wines in a store-within-their-store, he stated that if government required them to do this they would, but since it is not required, they are going to put wine in the grocery aisles for obvious marketing advantages.
Thus open the floodgates of confusion, here and right across the province.
Since this will likely not be the last request of this nature by Save-On or other stores, it seems quite obvious that if we are going to go down this road, there has to be a provincial standardization of liquor sales policies within grocery stores to eliminate the confusions – and possible trade challenges.
I, for one, would be quite proud of our MLAs Todd Stone and Terry Lake if they could just stop slinging mud for a bit at Kamloops Council and help us out with this!
As there has been no clear leadership by the B.C. government on these new policies, rather than labeling informed and conscientious decisions by council as “ridiculous,” our local MLAs could have respectfully met with members of council, private liquor retailers and other affected parties to work out the problems.
Instead, our MLAs chose a very public thrashing of the five council members who chose to make an informed decision these MLAs did not agree with. This shows a tremendous disrespect for locally elected officials, which I believe warrants an apology.
In light of the heavy-handed approach that came down on this issue locally, I have to think that the Liberal government is under a tight timeline to deliver a predetermined agenda that they are not willing to talk about.
I have no bone to pick with Save-On, as they are simply doing their best to increase profits while playing by the rules shaped by this current provincial government.
In short, I find the inability of our government to have an organized proper plan in place for this “new era” of liquor distribution to be unacceptable.
This “huge” local controversy is really all about inept B.C. government leadership.
With so many conflicting messages coming from the government’s own words and strong opposition from varied local stakeholders, it’s hard to believe any municipal government could allow this initiative to go ahead as it currently sits.
June 25, 2016 12:53pm
Bob Gamble says:
June 22, 2016 03:29pm
The fly in the ointment is the weasel word “should”. In legislation there are usually three defining words; shall, should and may. “Should” leaves the door wide open to stick the wine wherever Save-On-Foods (and others) want to place the product. Why would anyone expect Save-On-Foods go to the expense and bother of providing a stand-alone area if not required? It is hard to imagine the drafters of the legislation weren’t aware of consequences of using “should” rather than “shall”. The whole clause appears to be smoke and mirrors.
Hopefully if Council decides to bend a little, it will be on the condition of separating alcohol from the general store.
Grouchy 1 says:
June 22, 2016 09:18am
June 25, 2016 12:55pm
Pierre Filisetti says:
June 22, 2016 06:58am
You have put a tremendous effort into this issue. You obviously have done a great deal of reading to inform yourself and us (at least the ones willing to look beyond euphoric rhetoric).
I too find our own MLAs response out of line, but that's hardly surprising. Thank you for doing your job. Your courage to go against the grain is much appreciated and very much supported.