Local liquor vendors are worried about how the province is going to run the business of booze. Despite each of them being financially secure, none of them would allow their identities to be known for fear of provincial liquor officials' reprisals against their operations, and none of them were optimistic the current public consultation period would provide a positive playing field in the future.
"Did you know the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch intends to set up a superstore in the Spruceland Mall area? That's only one block from Liquor On 10th," said one liquor vendor (not the owner of said store).
"They intend to refrigerate their product and because they make the rules and set the prices for all of us, they will be undercutting everyone, especially that store. No one else is allowed to open a liquor store within one kilometre of anyone else's existing operation, but they see the stats, they know that store does monster business, so they get to snap their fingers and magically appear."
Another - also not the owner - said, "Opening the Spruceland store is terrifying. What's going to happen is, they aren't going to sell any more liquor, they are just going to cut up the pie. They are shooting themselves in the foot for what I figure is about $1.6 million based on the difference in price markups, taxes, rent on the building, people employed by the private guy, and the economic input that all provides the province. And people are being crippled because they had to put their own personal resources into that private store, and the government has the fat wallet to build whatever they want wherever they want it."
Another said, "The part that is weird with this is how the Liberals laid out the liquor business with the private sector not that long ago, started opening the door for a much less restrictive way of doing business, so people have laid out a tonne of coin - some people in B.C. are 20 or 25 million dollars into their projects, based on one set of assurances - but now our investments are threatened."
Another was openly hostile.
"You don't have free speech in this country if you are a liquor licensee. If you speak up in any way, you get targeted. They can shut your business down. What other business can sustain a sudden closure for up to 21 days?," the person said.
"And check the records. How many Prince George bars and beer stores have been served with suspensions or fines?... many. And how many B.C. Liquor Stores?... zero. Yet I know for a fact they are breaking the rules right now, selling unauthorized kinds of alcohol only the private vendors are allowed to sell. If I sold unauthorized liquor, can you imagine the consequences?"
There was also an agreement among those at the table that the RCMP members - against orders and in some cases against regulation - use liquor establishments as a fishing hole for infractions. They also strong-arm the bar owners to eject gang members.
"We have privacy laws in this country. I don't know who these people are. They do. They have the guns. They should come in and deal with these gang guys," said one.
"You don't see the cops cracking down on car dealerships, strong-arming the people over in the showroom about turning in the guys who buy their luxury vehicles with no plausible employment records and paying cash, do you?"
Another concern they had was grocery and convenience stores being allowed to sell liquor, as many have suggested through the public consultation process. The impact to their own bottom lines aside, some felt liquor still needed tight controls while others felt the best approach was to let people do more of what they want and implement aggressive education and addictions recovery elements. That was democratically better, they said, than too much Big Brother.
"People are already complaining. You read it in the papers here and in the Lower Mainland, that B.C. is no fun anymore. The majority of law-abiding people can't walk down the street with a beer in their hand because a minority of people abuse it. Well, deal appropriately with the abusers. It's not right that people can't do what they want to do if it isn't hurting anybody."
"We run legitimate businesses that have to have more licenses and inspections than any other form of storekeeping, so why are we constantly being targeted for this and restricted for that?," said one.
"They have devalued our industry to the point nobody wants to be in it anymore, yet the government is the one who profits the most from the sale of alcohol. So how can it be so bad? Yes, addiction is bad and impaired driving is bad, so address those issues not the part that really isn't an issue for almost everyone."
Almost all liquor-related decisions have been put on hold by the provincial government pending the closure of the public consultation process. The public as well as liquor licensees are urged to go online and provide input. Some have said they want B.C. to change the legal drinking age to 18 in lockstep with Alberta and several other provinces. Others want no restrictions be allowed on dancing in some liquor establishments versus another. Some want more investment in the commercial inspection system so locally-made adult beverages can get into local stores without having to first be shipped to Vancouver then back again at the expense of the producer. Some want major investment in the addictions treatment and recovery sector, highway enforcement, and domestic dispute policing before any relaxation of liquor laws occurs. Some simply want the government to get out of the way and quit any role in the commercial side of alcohol. All potential topics are on the table.
"I just hope they listen to the feedback, when they get it," one of the licensees said.
"But I think it's just going to get lost."