BC Wine Institute Announces Governance Review

The BC Wine Institute has announced a wide ranging governance review of its operations and structure that will be carried out by an independent third party. The press release is here: BCWI Announces Governance Review. According to the announcement, major changes within the BC wine industry along with the BC government liquor policy review prompted the BCWI to launch its own review. The review will deal with "focus on all areas of the organization, including, but not limited to: internal governance; board structure; member winery representation; and membership communications strategy".

The BCWI has 138 member wineries comprising the vast bulk of production in BC (there are 235 total in BC). BCWI member wineries include both large manufacturers that produce blended wine as well as small and medium sized wineries that produce only 100% BC product. Recently, the BCWI has had to deal with issues such as inter-provincial shipping and the reforms proposed by the government's liquor policy review.

BC Liquor Law Reforms: Further Details and Timeline

On March 6th, the BC Government released further details of its ongoing reforms to BC liquor laws including more specific information on grocery store liquor sales and a timeline for 15 of the 73 reforms that are being implemented as a result of the liquor policy review. The press release is here: BC Outlines Balanced Plan for Grocery Store Liquor Sales. In addition, amendments were introduced in the legislature that will implement some of the proposed changes: Bill 15, Liquor Control and Licensing Amendment Act 2014.

Highlights of the changes include:

  • Two ways to sell liquor in grocery stores: the first is a "store within a store" model where alcohol will be sold in a segregated area of the grocery store with its own cashier, and the second is the ability to obtain one of a limited number of new licenses that will permit the sale of BC VQA wines on regular grocery store shelves.
  • Work continues on the definition of "grocery store". However, it will not include "convenience stores". In addition, the current moratorium on the issuance of new licenses will be maintained.
  • The 1 km distance separation rule for liquor retailers will be maintained (and expanded to include all liquor stores). The 5 km maximum relocation rule for retailers will be eliminated.
  • Significantly, the government has also announced that BC's wholesale pricing structure for liquor will be revised and that all retailers, both government and private, will pay the same wholesale price for liquor products (apparently, the current intention is that restaurants/hotels/bars will not be included in this policy). 

A timeline is set out in the press release for 15 of the liquor policy review changes which indicates that some of the announced changes will be implemented in "Spring/Summer 2014" (e.g. farmers' market sales, festival sales, happy hour, off-site storage for licensees, intra-transfer of liquor), others will be implemented in "Fall 2014" (e.g. education initiatives, serving it right changes, expansion of manufacturer sales to include additional products) and some in "Winter 2015" (e.g. grocery store liquor sales). In addition, a complete re-write of the existing licensing statute will be done and a new Act will be introduced in "spring 2015". 

Canadian LIquor Law Reform Momentum Continues

The momentum for the reform of liquor laws in BC and at the federal level in Canada continued today with commitments in the BC Government Throne Speech and the federal budget. The BC Throne Speech contained a pledge to implement all of the recommendations in the recent BC Liquor Policy Review Report: see the Modernization section of the throne speech. In addition, the federal budget, also delivered today, repeated an earlier commitment to introduce further amendments at the federal level that would permit the interprovincial shipment of beer and spirits: see "Removing Barriers to the Interprovincial Movement of Goods" in the Budget. It should be noted that BC's promised reforms are quite extensive while the federal changes are limited. They simply extend earlier amendments (which only applied to wine) to include beer and spirits. 

73 Changes, More to Come?

BC's full liquor policy review report has now been released with 73 substantial recommendations for change, most of which will be enthusiastically welcomed by the wine industry. Nevertheless, two substantial areas of reform remain and they are: 1) BC's wholesale pricing structure for alcohol, and 2) the LDB wholesale distribution system. Each of these areas poses significant problems for both the wine industry and the hospitality industry as a whole. In depth analysis of the problems in each of these areas can be found in the policy review submissions of both the Modernize Wine Association of BC and the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association. It is hoped that the positive momentum of change invoked by the liquor policy review will continue and that the government will also act sooner rather than later on these important structural issues which affect both industry and wine consumers.

BC Government Supports 73 Liquor Policy Reforms

The BC Government released its full Liquor Policy Review Report today and announced that it is supporting all of the 73 recommendations in the report. The report is very wide ranging and includes specific recommendations related to most sectors of the industry, some of which are summarized below. The only exceptions are general recommendations related to distribution and pricing, which presumably may become the subject of future changes. At a press conference for the release, the responsible Minister indicated that the government will move as quickly as it can to implement the changes but that some reforms will obviously take longer than others.

Previously announced changes that will benefit wineries include: increased promotion of BC wine products, simplifying licensing requirements for low risk activities such as picnic areas at wineries, streamlining licensing processes for wineries, allowing the sampling and sale of wine at farmers' markets, making it easier for consumers to purchase wine at tasting events (including temporary on-site private and government stores), and allowing secondary tasting rooms for wineries.

Previously announced changes for restaurants and bars include: allowing happy hour specials subject to minimum pricing guidelines, allowing minors into pubs with their families subject to guidelines, removal of requirements to order food in restaurants when ordering a drink, flexibility in operating an establishment so as to allow conversion from food-primary to liquor-primary at a certain hour.

Major changes announced today include: an appeal process for the decisions of the LCLB, the demise of fenced off beer gardens, an overhaul of the special occasion licensing system, simpler licensing for stadiums and theatres, the removal of restrictions on sampling of alcohol, allowing off-site storage for private licensees, allowing growler service in retail stores, and site-wide licensing for hotels (e.g. take a drink from one part of the hotel up to your room).

Those interested in a full analysis of these policy changes including potential business opportunities and challenges may wish to attend the 2014 Wine and Liquor Law Conference in Vancouver on February 24th which is dedicated to a sector by sector discussion of the reforms. Those employed in the wine and liquor industry are eligible for a discounted tuition rate of $300 for registration at the conference.