The City of Vancouver is opting to hold back on implementing one of the most significant changes spurred by the provincial government’s B.C. Liquor Policy Review – the sale of wine in grocery stores.
On Wednesday, Vancouver City Council voted against a staff recommendation to allow five grocery stores to sell B.C. produced wine as a one-year pilot project.
Councillors heeded to the concerns of Vancouver Coastal Health medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly, who spoke at the hearing and highlighted the health effects of alcohol and the possible negative impacts of having it more widely available through grocery stores.
“It’s going to take quite a lot to convince me that liquor in grocery stores is actually going to be okay,” Councillor Kerry Jang said during the meeting. “There are tons of other things people can do other than getting alcohol to get drunk… there are other ways to have a good time, it doesn’t require that.”
“Not to mention that alcohol availability is already very free in this city. We have government liquor stores, we have private liquor stores, you can do off sales… so I can’t see the justification of it, despite what the provinces says.”
Representatives from the B.C. wine industry were also present to advocate their case in support of the new business opportunities offered by the provincial liquor law changes.
While grocery store liquor sales have been rejected in Vancouver, wine is already sold at grocery stores located in Surrey, White Rock, Tsawwassen, and Langley. Save-on-Foods’ South Surrey store was the first grocery store in B.C. to make wine available on their shelves.
“Staff visited two of these stores and observed a high attention to security and confirming eligible age, and that all patrons purchasing wine also bought several food products,” staff noted in the recommendation report.
Council deferred grocery store liquor sales to a more comprehensive review on how it will choose to implement the B.C. Liquor Policy Review, arguing that the provincial government did not consult with municipalities on any of the policy changes and potential impacts.
This past summer, an Urban Fare Market in downtown Vancouver constructed a wine store within its store footprint, following the new regulations of the province, but the municipal government did not permit the store to operate.
Grocery stores can apply to the province for a special license to sell wine within their stores. These licenses are not subject to the one-kilometre radius restrictions that only allow two out of 53 grocery stores in Vancouver to open a “store-within-a-store” liquor sale program. In addition to the distance requirement, stores must be at least 10,000 square feet in size and 75 per cent of their focus must be on food products and service.
The provincial government has been gradually enacting the 73 recommendations made by its review on liquor policy, which are meant to modernize the laws with common sense policies. There has been much criticism that the provincial laws on liquor are highly archaic and outdated.