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.

Upcoming Seminars Highlight BC Liquor Law Reform and Ontario DTC

Two upcoming seminars will provide important information to the wine industry in both Western and Eastern Canada.

The 5th annual Wine and Liquor Law in BC conference will be held on February 24th in Vancouver at the Metropolitan Hotel. This day-long conference focuses on the recommendations issued by the BC Government's Liquor Policy Review. It will provide a sector-by-sector analysis of the proposed changes including regulatory reform, effects on current stakeholders and emerging business opportunities. Check out the great line-up of speakers here including Doug Scott (new general manager for the LCLB) and Barry Bieller (director of policy for the LCLB). A special discounted conference fee of $300 applies to those working in the wine or liquor industry. Register Here.

The second event is the MNP Direct to Consumer Workshop which will be held on February 18th in Niagara-on-the-Lake at the White Oaks Resort. This half-day workshop will provide essential information to Ontario wineries who wish to take advantage of new markets in other provinces that have opened up following changes in interprovincial shipping laws. Speakers will include Dan Paszkowski from the CVA, myself (Mark Hicken) and MNP's Geoff McIntyre and Kal Ruprai. The workshop is free to industry attendees. Register Here.  

2014 - Year of BC Liquor Law Reform

The new year in BC has rolled in with the promise of significant modernization to the province's liquor laws. The liquor policy review concluded on November 25th of last year with a written report by John Yap, MLA which was submitted to the responsible minister, the Hon. Suzanne Anton. The report contains 70 recommendations. To date, the government has unveiled 20 of the 70 recommendations, and has indicated that it will support and implement those 20. The first batch of 12 were announced in earlier December and were aimed at assisting the BC wine industry as well as craft beer and spirits producers: see First BC Liquor Policy Review Changes Help Local Wineries. Later in December, another batch of 8 recommendations were announced which will help the province's restaurants and bars including the return of "happy hour", easier licensing processes, permitting children into pubs with adults during certain hours, allowing restaurants to transition to liquor primary service at certain times, and expanding the Serving It Right program: see BC Toasts Happy Hours, Hospitality, Legion Changes. I understand that support for further changes will be announced in the coming weeks and that the full liquor policy review report is scheduled to be released in mid-February.

If you are interested in learning more about these changes and the opportunities that may arise from them, you may wish to attend the annual Wine and Liquor Law in BC Conference which will be held in Vancouver on February 24th. This year's conference will be focussed entirely on the liquor policy review recommendations. A discount of more than 50% on the conference fee is available for those working in the wine and liquor industry.