The Georgia Straight - - Front Page - Kur­tis Kolt

It has been a few months now since NDP Leader John Hor­gan was sworn in as Bri­tish Columbia’s 36th pre­mier, a tidal shift after the Lib­eral party’s 16-year stran­gle­hold on power. And with the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment at the helm of liquor pol­icy, a mo­nop­oly with con­sid­er­able power and sway, you can bet many of us in the wine, beer, and spir­its in­dus­try have been cau­tiously hope­ful for pos­i­tive changes.

Op­ti­mism about favourable pol­icy shifts ac­com­pa­ny­ing lead­er­ship change is usu­ally muted un­til seeds of progress are seen to be planted. There has been rea­son for hope, though, in the form of our new at­tor­ney gen­eral, Van­cou­ver–point Grey MLA David Eby.

In the home stretch of B.C. Lib­eral rule, Eby was the Op­po­si­tion’s liquor­pol­icy critic, and he of­ten swung for the fences in the the­atri­cal set­ting of B.C.’S leg­is­la­ture ses­sions. After the

Lib­er­als’ liquor re­view and its pur­ported poli­cies and goals—liquor prices won’t in­crease! A level play­ing field for all re­tail­ers!— were im­ple­mented, it was whip-smart Eby and his pen­chant for re­search and show­man­ship that made his tak­ing-to­task of the rul­ing party well re­ceived by in­dus­try play­ers.

Un­for­tu­nately, al­though many talk­ing points were raised (and if these ses­sions had been ac­tual de­bate com­pe­ti­tions, he would have slayed), his valid points prov­ing un­kept prom­ises and (let’s face it) shitty pol­icy mostly fell on deaf ears when it came to the Lib­er­als’ agenda and ac­tions.

As at­tor­ney gen­eral, the guy has a lot on his plate. One only has to look at Pre­mier Hor­gan’s July 18 man­date let­ter (avail­able on­line) sent to him to see that his plate has to make room for re­form­ing cam­paign-fi­nance law, reestab­lish­ing the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion, im­prov­ing le­gal aid to those in need, and con­duct­ing a com­pre­hen­sive op­er­at­ing re­view of ICBC. Al­though it’s mildly con­cern­ing that there’s no men­tion of liquor pol­icy in the let­ter, Eby holds that file as well and is re­spon­si­ble for pol­icy and rev­enue. While the liquor file may not seem as im­por­tant or as much of a pri­or­ity as, oh, a hu­man­rights com­mis­sion, let’s keep in mind that it’s a bil­lion-dol­lar eco­nomic en­gine pay­ing more than a few pro­vin­cial bills and is the ap­pa­ra­tus that sup­ports B.C. restau­rants, bars, ho­tels, and both gov­ern­ment and pri­vate re­tail stores, along with em­ploy­ees from all sec­tors.

Of course, none of us with a vested in­ter­est have ex­pected change overnight. There is a hi­er­ar­chy of pri­or­i­ties for any new gov­ern­ment.

I have hope for progress and pos­i­tive change not only be­cause of Eby’s pub­lic ac­tions dur­ing the past few years but also be­cause of per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. I and oth­ers in the in­dus­try con­tacted him with con­cerns and ques­tions dur­ing his time in Op­po­si­tion, and he al­ways made time for emails and so­cial­me­dia mes­sages. I even had the chance to knock back a glass of wine or two with him while he pa­tiently let me and oth­ers vent. He and his young fam­ily live in this city and have shared many of the frus­tra­tions that Van­cou­verites har­bour, from the high cost of liv­ing to DTES so­cial ills to liquor pol­icy that of­ten suf­fo­cates busi­ness and cul­ture.

In the mean­time, Bri­tish Columbians con­tinue to pay some of the high­est prices on the planet for wine, beer, and spir­its. As an ex­am­ple, my most re­cent pur­chase from B.C. Liquor Stores was Alvear medium-dry sherry, an au­tumn-friendly amon­til­lado laden with tof­fee-cov­ered hazel­nuts. In Bri­tish Columbia, we’re pay­ing $21.26 once taxes are added in. In On­tario’s LCBO, the same bot­tle comes in at $13, an $8.26 dif­fer­ence.

Restau­rants are still not of­fered a dis­count or whole­sale price on al­co­hol, mak­ing it all the more dif­fi­cult to run their busi­nesses in this city of sky­rock­et­ing real-es­tate prices.

An­other chal­lenge is the “SPEC” sys­tem, where ware­housed prod­ucts not on liquor-store shelves must be or­dered by the case and take two or more weeks to ar­rive, even though they are ware­housed in Rich­mond. This makes it very dif­fi­cult to smoothly run any in­ter­est­ing restau­rant wine pro­gram, never mind a stream­lined busi­ness.

Restau­rants also can­not pur­chase prod­uct from pri­vate neigh­bour­hood stores like Mar­quis Wine Cel­lars and Lib­erty Wine Mer­chants. Per­mis­sion to do so not only would sup­port lo­cal busi­ness but wouldn’t af­fect pro­vin­cial rev­enue one bit, as these stores must pur­chase their prod­uct from the B.C. Liquor Dis­tri­bu­tion Branch just as B.C. Liquor Stores do.

These last cou­ple of mat­ters have easy fixes that make sense. Some other changes will be more dif­fi­cult.

Eby is well ac­quainted with these is­sues and many, many oth­ers in this field. He’s also able to ad­dress them.

And Christ­mas is right around the cor­ner.

Just sayin’.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral David Eby pre­sides over a bil­lion-dol­lar eco­nomic en­gine.

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