Does Vancouver really want to change its liquor laws?
The City of Vancouver is asking for your opinion on how it regulates booze. But according to one industry insider, it's not clear if the city is really listening
April 25, 2016
Vancouverites—well, at least some of them—have long complained about their city’s overly-restrictive approach to managing the sale and distribution of liquor. Now, they’re getting a chance to weigh in on those policies in advance of a major refresh of the city’s approach to how people buy (and sell) booze that’s expected to go before council some time this fall. After a proposed one-year pilot project that would have seen wine sold in select grocery stores was defeated in a vote last December, the city’s staff decided they needed to do a deeper dive on the subject. “What’s become very clear to us, from the direction of council, is that they want a full understanding of how we manage liquor municipally,” says Andreea Toma, the City of Vancouver’s director of licensing.
That understanding is going to come, at least in part, from a public survey that’s underway right now. Until May 15, Vancouverites will be able to weigh in on everything from where liquor is sold, served, and made, to the rules around liquor on patios (our opinion: more, please) and the kinds of venues that can serve it. But one local industry insider thinks the City might already have its mind made up. “It seems as if there’s an endgame to it,” says Kurtis Kolt, a local wine consultant and Van Mag wine awards judge. “I’m just trying to figure out what the endgame is.” And while it’s not a push-poll in the strictest sense of the term, some of the statements that respondents are asked to either agree or disagree with in it—for example, “If people drank less liquor than they do now, Vancouver would be a better place”—do feel a bit pushy. “There’s a lot of room for interpretation—or, let’s say, misinterpretation—on the part of the people filling it out and the people compiling the results,” Kolt says.
Toma says there’s no pre-conceived agenda behind the poll. “No, we don’t have anything that we’ve drafted and are ready to move forward with.” Instead, she says, it’s about “closing the loop” between the public opinion and city policy. Still, the tone and tenor of some of the survey’s questions has Kolt worried. “I hate the ‘No Fun City’ thing—I think it’s a cop-out, and that life is what you make it. But at the same time, how do you not say that when you look at this survey?” That nervousness, he says, is rooted in the fact that the province went through its own public consultation process when it was reviewing its liquor policy in 2013—and appeared to deliver conclusions that were out of step with the will of both the public or the industry. “There was this illusion that they reached out and listened and all that. But you get the sense, when you talk to private stores, restaurateurs, and consumers that they didn’t listen to what the concerns were. Is this going to be history repeating itself? I think that’s the big worry.”