Hoping for easier access to booze in B.C.? The province says it's not happening
'It's not a priority of our government to expand … the availability of alcohol,' attorney general says
The attorney general of B.C. says the government has no plans to make it easier for people to buy alcohol in the province by increasing options in grocery stores, saying British Columbians are already struggling with alcohol-related harms and more convenience is not what's needed.
Alcohol availability made news earlier this week with new regulations allowing international wine and ciders to encroach on B.C. wine's formerly exclusive space on grocery store shelves in the province, despite locally brewed beer still being forbidden from supermarkets.
Brewers in the province, pointing out that imported wines have gained a spot in stores before their homegrown products, described it as a missed opportunity and urged the province to change rules and make space for local beer.
But on Friday, B.C. Attorney General David Eby gave an emphatic "no" — to beer, and any other kind of alcohol.
"It's not a priority of our government to expand the number of outlets of alcohol in our province or the availability of alcohol," Eby said during an interview with CBC's The Early Edition on Friday.
Eby said the province has already increased availability more than it would have liked with the addition of imported wine in supermarkets, saying the government didn't have a choice: Canada and the U.S. agreed that wine sales on B.C. grocery stores would have to include international offerings as part of the new the trade deal between Canada, the United States and Mexico known as CUSMA.
"[Allowing imported wine in grocery stores is] not something that we wanted to do," Eby said, who added that the province is already struggling with an alcohol problem.
"B.C. has become the worst province in Canada for hospitalizations as a result of alcohol use in the last few years — we do have a serious issue here and it's costing a lot of money," he said.
In June, the Canadian Institute for Health Information published data saying British Columbia had 361 alcohol-related hospitalizations every day per 100,000 people between 2017 and 2018 — more than any other province.
"If we increase the availability of alcohol in the province, we increase hospitalizations, we increase the public costs of alcohol, problematic alcohol use — it's a one-to-one ratio that public health officials have looked at for a long time.
"So we're trying to balance these things. It's not easy, but it's the right thing to do," Eby said.
The province's move to allow select grocery stores to begin selling B.C. wine — introduced on April 1, 2015 — was one of the changes made as a result of a comprehensive review of "outdated and inefficient" liquor laws by the previous B.C. Liberal government.
Michael Krausz, the UBC Leadership Chair in Addiction Research, says it's good for the government to think about prevention and preventative measures, but there are other things that can be more effective.
"If you really want to prevent … dependence, you really need to think about other measures," Krausz said. "Making hard liquor less available and restrict that more, [control] the availability and accessibility for adolescents ... systemic education."
Premier Ford loosening rules in Ontario
In Ontario there are also concerns about the increased availability of alcohol.
Under Premier Doug Ford's leadership, that province eased its rules around alcohol sales and consumption.
Changes include allowing alcohol to be served starting at 9 a.m. and plans to allow the sale of beer and wine in corner stores.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, issued a report to the city's board of health saying the new guidelines will "negatively impact public health and safety." She also said increased access to alcohol is associated with a spike in consumption and higher rates of alcohol-related harms.
Consumer experts said some buyers are happy to have more access to alcohol, making it an easy play for points with voters.
Eby said he has no plans to follow in those footsteps.
"I recognize that it's politically popular. I think Doug Ford recognized it's politically popular to have more availability of alcohol," said Eby.
"What we're doing is we're trying to be more responsible."
With files from the Canadian Press