B.C.'s premier waters down booze in stores expectations, cites safety concerns

WEST KELOWNA, B.C. – Premier Christy Clark says she’s trying to get the mix right before British Columbia permits the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores.

Clark watered down the provincial appetite for alcohol sales in grocery stores during a news conference Wednesday and poured out a dozen other likely changes to B.C. liquor regulations.

She also suggested beer-and-wine sales in grocery stores still needs work.

Clark’s Liberal government is reviewing B.C.’s liquor laws, saying rules and regulations governing alcohol require modernization.

Last month, Liberal parliamentary secretary John Yap submitted a report to the Justice Ministry that included 70 recommendations, including what he said was overwhelmingly the most popular wish among British Columbians, allowing beer-and-wine sales in grocery stores.

Clark said she’s aware British Columbians support the convenience of beer-and-wine sales in grocery stores by a four-to-one margin, but the government has public-safety concerns.

The Justice Ministry stated at the completion of the liquor review that 75 per cent of all comments — more than 3,587 private emails and letters, 188 stakeholder submissions, and 4,364 blog comments — were in favour of more convenient access to beer-and-wine sales.

“It was an overwhelming support from citizens to find a way to make it more convenient for people,” said Clark. “John (Yap) has recommended finding a way to put beer and wine in grocery stores. I’m concerned about the public-safety aspect of that.”

Clark said when it comes to selling beer and wine in grocery stores her government must weigh public convenience, safety and the promotion of B.C. products.

“I’m concerned about the public safety aspect of that,” she said. “We need to pay real close attention to that, at the same time we are making sure that B.C. products benefit from it, and health and safety is protected. But the public told us really clearly that they want convenience. We’re trying to see if we can make that work.”

Among the dozen recommendations announced by Clark was permitting winemakers, craft brewers and speciality distillers to sell their products at farmers’ markets and secondary-tasting rooms.

Private liquor-store operators say selling beer and wine in grocery stores threatens their livelihoods and poses risks for alcohol sales to minors.