British Columbia

B.C. NDP calling for prohibition on liquor announcements

So far this year, the province has held 12 liquor announcements and sent out 28 press releases connected to the province's updating of liquor laws. NDP critic David Eby calls all the events a waste of time and money.

B.C. government held 12 liquor announcements, sent 28 liquor press releases in 2016

Parliamentary Secretary for Liquor Policy John Yap (left) introduces new rules that will allow businesses like barber shops to apply for a liquor licence. (Richard Zussman/CBC)

John Yap has been a busy man.

So far this year, the Parliamentary Secretary for Liquor Reform Policy has overseen 12 liquor announcements on behalf of the government. He has also been mentioned in 28 press releases this year connected to the province's updating of liquor laws.

It's been three years since the government came out with a report on modernizing liquor policy, which made more than 70 recommendations

NDP critic David Eby says he doesn't understand why the government is making a separate announcement each time a new one is adopted. 

"It's a waste of time, it's a waste of money," said Eby. "We have a fentanyl crisis, we've got a housing crisis, we've got a public education crisis and this government is tinkering with liquor policy and holding major media events to announce them. It's bizarre." 

Another announcement Wednesday

There was yet another provincial announcement Wednesday.

Starting Jan. 23, 2017, hotel visitors can legally bring their drinks from the bar or lounge in the hotel to their rooms. 

On top of that, hotels and resorts that own a bar or pub onsite will also soon be able to provide guests with a complimentary standard-sized alcoholic beverage upon check-in.

That announcement comes following last month's announcement that the province will allow barbershops, salons and cooking schools to apply for a license to sell alcohol at their establishments.

Parliamentary Secretary for Liquor Reform Policy John Yap announced the launch of the B.C. Ale Trail, along with the BC Craft Brewers Guild on Oct. 14, 2016. (Kamil Karamali/CBC)

Yap says because of the complexity of the regulations, it would have been impossible to have announced all of the changes at the same time and in the same location. 

"We wanted to make sure that with the complexity of the liquor file that we got this right. We have had a whole department of public servants working very hard over the last year and a half preparing the regulations and now putting them into force," said Yap. 

Liquor in grocery stores falling behind

Making an announcement also carries a cost.

Ministry staff said a bulk of the money spent on the events goes to hiring a company to provide audio equipment so that the media can get a clean broadcast feed of the event. 

Parliamentary Secretary for Liquor Policy Reform John Yap and Minister Responsible for the Liquor Distribution Branch Coralee Oakes were among several others making the announcement about craft brewery rules May 20, 2016. (CBC)

A few of the announcements, though, have been pretty similar: in the last few years, both Justice Minister Suzanne Anton and John Yap have unveiled the plan to put wine on B.C. grocery store shelves.

Allowing liquor to be sold in grocery stores drew more public interest and comment than any other topic examined in the provincial Liquor Policy Review. By the end of the public engagement process, almost 75 per cent of people commenting on grocery were generally in favour of changing the regulations to allow for access to liquor products in grocery stores.

But the province has moved slowly in implementing the policy, with just 14 grocery stores since April 1, 2015 unveiling wine on their shelves. The City of Vancouver is doing its own liquor review and so far has not allowed local grocery stores to sell wine on shelves.

Yap says it is a work in progress.

"We said at the beginning we would take a measured approach to making these changes, it wouldn't be a big bang and have a multitude of groceries carrying liquor," said Yap.