For people who drink more alcohol per person than the rest of the province, northern B.C. residents are strangely quiet about possible changes to provincial liquor rules.
John Yap, the parliamentary secretary for liquor policy reform, said of the 1,500-or-so comments gathered so far on the issue's dedicated website, the number of messages sent in from northern B.C. is only about 40. It prompted Yap to come to northern B.C. this week to gather some personal input from key stakeholders and urge the public to have their say on what is clearly a hot topic.
"This has become the most successful public engagement exercise our government has ever had," he said, in terms of the flood of social media and internet input. The website has had 48,000 separate visits, and the average amount of time spent per visit is eight minutes. A Twitter Town Hall meeting generated 1,400 individual tweets and 350,000 impressions. The #bcliquor hash-tag has garnered 3,600 tweets. Not yet counted are all the individual emails and hard copy letters sent directly to the ministry.
Yap is tasked only with gathering and assessing the input. He is not a minister responsible for any of the regulations or effects pertaining to alcohol. Therefore, he said, he has the freedom to speak his mind and open his ear to anyone's suggestions about how booze should be regulated going forward.
"There are some recurring questions," he said. "The convenience factor seems to be the number one wish from the public, as in availability in convenience stores or grocery stores. Another is inconsistency with the application of policy: you can take your children to a Canucks game where people are drinking beer right beside you, but you can't take your kids into a pub just to have lunch."
While many consumers want liquor available on a widespread basis, cold beer and wine store operators do not, nor do some addictions specialists, law enforcement officials and health care professionals. Some think the province needs to more tightly restrict the sale and distribution of alcohol while others believe the government should get immediately out of the liquor sales business altogether and merely regulate for safety.
The array of views can be read on the public input website (http://engage.gov.bc.ca/liquorpolicyreview/). Several blogs by Yap are available and you can leave your own suggestions with the click of a button.
"What I'm hearing from a good number of British Columbians is a desire to update some of the rules," he said.