By next spring, British Columbians might just be toasting new liquor laws that are more in step with today's society.
That's the message from Richmond-Steveston Liberal MLA John Yap who is steering the province's review of alcohol regulations.
Yap, who was named Parliamentary Secretary for Liquor Policy Reform shortly after the B.C. Liberal Party's spring election win, told the News it is still early days in the review process that industry stakeholders
is seeking input from industry stakeholders - from pub owners to health care officials - as well as the general public.
But he is rapidly learning there are many opinions on what changes should be made to laws which have not undergone a comprehensive review for more than a decade.
"It's not that there haven't been changes here and there, but there is a feeling from lots of people that we should take a comprehensive look," Yap said.
"So, we are meeting with as many people as we can and looking for their ideas and opinions."
Yap said one of the recurring themes he has encountered so far is an expression of
agreement that the government review the laws.
"People are happy that we are doing this, that government is taking a comprehensive look," Yap said. "We know that societal values have evolved over time, and this (review)
is very much part of that - tapping into finding out from British Columbians, where are people at in terms of this very important issue."
The government has also looked at neighbouring provinces to see what changes have been made. "For example, we now have almost 20 years of experience viewing what has happened in Alberta where they made a change to go completely private in their (liquor) retail stores," Yap said.
That also raises significant economic issues, as alcohol consumption is worth $1 billion annually to the province's coffers.
"Alcohol products are used by 85 to 95 per cent of British Columbians of legal drinking age. So, this is an issue that touches many people," said Yap.
"The hospitality and tourism industries are very important to Richmond and the rest of B.C. And we know that if we can find a way to encourage continued growth and development in those important sectors, in a responsible way, that's what we'd like to do."
It's all part of a delicate balancing act, tempered with a general desire for change that Yap is attempting to strike.
"As government we are seeing what we can do in a common sense and balanced way to, perhaps, change some regulations that maybe a holdover from times past, while keeping in mind we have public safety and health issues to deal with."
As part of that, Yap met with officials from the Vancouver Island Health Authority on Monday.
On Thursday, the University of Victoria's Centre for Addictions Research made a submission to the province's Liquor Policy Review stating existing B.C. liquor regulations ignore the health and social costs of alcohol, and need to strike a balance with convenient access and revenue considerations.
"We can and should be doing a much better job of monitoring our alcohol policies against health indicators, such as alcohol-related deaths and chronic diseases," said Dr. Tim Stockwell, CARBC director in a press release.
"The current laws address some public safety concerns, but overall B.C. liquor policy is focused almost entirely on revenue raising, with the liquorrelated health costs simply left out of the picture. We're advocating for a better balance."
Yap has until the end of November to compile his findings from the consultation period into a report for B.C.'s Justice Minister and Attorney General, Suzanne Anton.
"She will take it to government and go from there," Yap said.
Feedback from the continuing review process will be posted on the B.C. government's web site so the public can track what is being discussed.
The public can get into the discussion by visiting www.gov.bc.ca and clicking on the B.C. Liquor Review button which is expected to be up and running by the weekend.
© Copyright 2013