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Bill 27 – The “New” Liquor Control and Licensing Act

For liquor industry insiders the start of 2015 has been marked with frequent, and sometimes confusing, communications from the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch describing recent changes to the Regulation and new policies.

On April 1, 2015 a number of these new initiatives take effect. Certain of the announced changes are intended to provide liquor retailers with opportunities to locate and operate stores in ways that may be more convenient for consumers, and create consistency between public and private stores. These changes include:

  • Longer hours of operation (including Sundays) for BC government liquor stores
  • More BC Government stores will be fitted with refrigeration units to enable them to sell cold beer and wine
  • Grocery stores who obtain the requisite licence (VQA or Independent Wine Store) will be allowed to stock and sell 100% BC wine stored by the grocer, stocked in designated display areas, and purchased at designated check-out registers by certified employees
  • Existing licensees will be permitted to move their business (or transfer their licence) so that a new “liquor store within a grocery store” can be opened – subject to certain geographic limitations. In theory this will allow for “one-cart shopping experiences” between grocery and liquor. Under this arrangement the liquor retailer operates as a separate business, with most of the usual terms and conditions.

Other changes that become effective April 1, 2015 affect price. A November, 2014 announcement by the Ministry of Justice put British Columbians on notice that beginning April 1, 2015 all liquor retailers, including BC Liquor Stores, would purchase their product from the BC Liquor Distribution Branch at a common wholesale price. For better or for worse this change has done away with the previous model that provided different classes of retailers various discounts depending on the type of retailer they are. Whether this change in wholesale pricing will end up “levelling the playing field” for “all liquor retailers” or provide any meaningful benefit to consumers will be determined with time as the full picture of pricing changes becomes known. The private liquor retail sector remains critical of this new regime.

What has been given comparatively less attention was the introduction on March 26, 2015 of the first-reading version of Bill 27, described by the Minister of Justice as a “re-write” of the Liquor Control and Licensing Act that if passed will modernize outdated provisions and provide a legislative foundation to implement the outstanding recommendations from the Final Report delivered on January 31, 2014.

Assuming Bill 27 is passed, additional consultations will take place with licensees, local government and police toward the development of regulations that will bring the new Act into force and provide details on how the new Act will be interpreted, applied and enforced. Like under the existing Liquor Control and Licensing Act the regulations are where the real mechanisms of the Act are kept – and liquor industry stakeholders should pay close attention to details of the new regulation as they emerge. Until the new Act can be read in concert with the new regulation it is too early to tell how significant the effect of the new Act will be on stakeholders.

*Alcohol & Advocacy publishes articles for information purposes only. They are not a substitute for legal advice, and persons requiring such advice should consult legal counsel.

Dan Coles
Retired bartender. Young lawyer. From the East, living in the West. Interested in British Columbia's producers and purveyors of wine, beer and spirits.

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