Message to LCLB: it’s time to treat us like adults (UPDATED)

Experience of EXP Bar is another example of nanny state liquor laws gone wrong

(Update: CKNW has reported that Jay Chambers has resigned as GM of Liquor Distribution Branch)

Canadians, especially British Columbians, are hearing a lot of media reports about liquor laws. People are using internet advocacy to goad politicians into changing laws, reducing taxes, and lessening the regulatory burden on business when it comes to where and when people are having a glass of wine or pint of beer.

The most vocal campaign across the country is the successful #FreeMyGrapes movement to end inter-provincial prohibition. Okanagan-Similkameen MP Dan Albas managed to get a unanimous vote for Bill C311 to end restrictions on the movement of wine over provincial borders. The Bill has now been approved for a Senate vote and will likely become law in a matter of weeks. While politicians rose to the challenge on this matter (thanks in large part due to the Internet making the issue well understood across the country) the private and government-controlled liquor establishment are resistant to change.

In BC we've seen several battles, such as the Rio Theatre getting changes to rules regarding the sale of alcohol in movie theatres. A Downtown Eastside entertainment venue, the Rickshaw, got the first liquor primary license in that community in twenty years after some pressure on authorities.

Now a former videogame industry developer wants to open a new establishment – EXP Bar – where you and your friends can have a drink and game together. Not surprisingly, the Liquor Control Licensing Branch (LCLB) doesn't like the idea. Restaurant proprietor Brian Vidovic has begun a petition to pressure Minister Rich Coleman and the LCLB authorities to change their mind, and he's getting a lot of attention this week for it. Here's Brian's video explaining his campaign:

Vancouver has a dynamic and vital videogame development industry. Yet somehow we can't see fit to celebrate and support it by allowing people to enjoy games in a venue where adults can have a drink.

The public seem to be telling our liquor licensing authorities that their stranglehold must end. People are tired of the nanny state around booze in our province, and they're making themselves heard. If you support our videogame development industry, then perhaps you should support a venue like EXP Bar and their campaign to get a license which allows you to have a bite, have a drink, and play a videogame.

UPDATE — City Caucus was contacted by a Ministry spokesperson with the following clarification of EXP's license application:

  • The applicant has been told he can have drinks alongside video game consoles, however has to apply for a liquor primary licence in order to do so.
  • He is currently applying for a food primary license. With that type of licence, the primary focus must at all times be on food. With the addition of the gaming consoles in the applicant’s proposal, the primary focus is not food.
  • This restriction is not in place for liquor-primary licences – and that is the appropriate type of licence for what he is proposing.

– post by Mike

Mayor Robertson escaped Stanley Cup riot unscathed
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  • City Observer

    When visiting Montreal last summer, how wonderful to be able to go to the Provigo grocery store down the way and pick up a case of beer or a bottle of wine. Same holds true when visiting with friends in Seattle.

    In Vancouver, though, our liquor laws are antideluvian, the provincial government treating its citizens as if, somehow, we need to be protected from ourselves.

  • Ron

    Ah good ol’ liquor laws.

    My “favorite” application is that due to the riot the previously ignored selling of 16 oz beers at Roger’s arena was suddenly cracked down on. Now you can get 2 12 ounce beers OR 1 16 ounce beer but if you get two 16 ounce beers than your overserving. I guess they figured the people in the areana started the riot (despite it starting before the end of the game.)

    Despite this, the most intoxicated I have ever been at a game was actually this year. Saint Patricks day on a Saturday and a 300 dollar bar bill will have that effect.

  • boohoo

    Our liquor laws are antique, based on puritan nonsense. We look like backwater hillbillies compared to almost every other nation out there.

    • Ron

      Don’t forget hugely ineffective (unless your collecting the taxes off of it.)

  • Hi Mike,

    Thanks so much for the post! We appreciate your support!

    Here are some thoughts on the ‘update’ from the Ministry’s spokesperson:

    We feel that having to go through the process of obtaining a liquor primary license for the seated entertainment of video games is absurd. The policy should not read ‘shift away from the focus of food’ but should state ‘the venue should never shift the focus to the service of liquor.’ The fact this is even an issue is ridiculous. We do not want to be a night club and we do not want to be treated as such in an application.

    The problem is ‘liquor primary’ is treated as ‘liquor only’ but in reality, a ‘pub’ should have its own license and procedures that encourage new ideas and community-oriented spaces. Any ‘shift from the focus’ policies encourage businesses to shy away from any new ideas and therefore continue to conform to the LCLB’s archaic vision of liquor service.

    The unfortunate truth about that update is that Liquor Primary’s in Vancouver are numbered. There is a moratorium on most every application that goes in.

    Additionally, what they don’t speak of is the fact ‘arcades’ are not allowed to be licensed. If we went through the licensing process for 18 months, and paid our fees, there is a chance we could still be denied. This policy is because ‘arcades are for children’ presumably and would ‘encourage liquor sale to minors’ which is so incorrect it is silly.

    We received the same response from Coleman’s camp earlier in the month, and that is why we decided to petition against such a ruling. Seated entertainment such as video games should be allowed in Food Primary establishments. Telling me to go get the ‘golden ticket’ to ‘freedom in liquor sales’ is not the answer.

    Eventually, we hope to change the entire licensing system. One step at a time, we’ll fight this as hard as we can. This is for the betterment of all small business in hospitality in BC, since what the LCLB is stating is: “If you aren’t rich, get out of BC.” I would’ve been open a year ago if I was in any other major city or province.

    Regurgitating tired policy isn’t progress and it isn’t proper regulation. It’s restriction, from the days of prohibition. And I won’t stand for it.

    Thanks again for the mention!


    – Brian

    I love this video by Chris Mathieson about the ‘ridiculous’ history of the LCLB:

    • I’m a former EA employee, so I’ve got your back, Brian. 😉 Semper Fi

      Good luck!

    • Ron

      So much unneeded beaurocracy.

      As long as you pay the taxes and don’t sell to minors then it should be nothing more than a matter of local zoning whether or not you can sell booze.

      The province should only concern itself with collecting it’s booty of taxes, enforcing age limits, enforcing impaired driving, and enforcing disorderly conduct. That should be it.

      The crazy beaurocracy that determines which store at which hours are nuts. If I want to go on a bender I will simply stock up well in advance.

      Instead of annoying me at the canucks game or trying to stop me from drinking a bottle of wine at the beach put your efforts into going after the actual trouble makers!

  • Chris

    These Victorian liquor laws were imposed upon BC by a religious (separation of church and state), right-wing government generations ago. The greed-driven and corrupt individuals running the show today are clearly using the antiquated legislation to their own ends. Keep fighting!

    • I can see the horses and buggies now!

      • Ron

        You can? You sure it’s just booze your drinking?

        Unfortunately one of the relgious things that seems to be still shining through to even non religous people is that booze should be closely montored and highly taxed by the state to try to curtail people’s desire to sin with alchohol (to no effect other than to rake in taxes and annoy people).

  • matt

    The same people that oppose government intervention with liquor laws support government intervention in many other social issues. Your confused ideology is very self serving and it at the core of your frustration.

    • Ron

      While some people are pretty consistant about minimising government intrusion.

      And regardless of that there’s always going to be government intrusion to some degree (still doubtfull on my backyard rendering plant – even if it is green) and it’s hardly a suprise that depending on the issue at hand various people will vary their opinion.

      Everyone’s ideology is very self serving and is at the core of everyone else’s frustration.

      • Steven Forth

        @Ron – do I get to invest in your rendering plant?

        • Ron

          Too many approvals for the rendering plant for it to be an investment I would advise others to take at this moment though with any luck I will have some bridge schemes to throw some money at.

          I will let you know when the time comes.

    • Steven Forth

      @Matt How do you know these are the same people? I am always amazed at people who claim to know more than it is possible to know.

      Ron’s response makes good sense to me. We can ask people to declare when they have a financial stake in a decision and what thay financial stake is.

      On wine, I want to be able to buy a larger variety of wine and I am not too fussed about price.

      On housing, I want my kids to be able to afford houses that are large enough to raise small families in cycling distance. I also want to be able to attract talented technology and creative talent to work at companies I am involved with in Vancouver (though with the current trend to distributed on-line work forces and project-based teams that is less important than it was even five years ago).

      On green technology (willing to discuss a defnition) I believe this is where the best financial and social returns will be over the next 30 years and I plan to invest (I also believe that some people will make large fortunes in oil at the tail end of the oil age, especially energy speculators, but I have never been good at that game).

      • Bill

        “not fussed about the price”? Is that how you feel about all taxation? “as long as I get my government services I’m not fussed about how much they tax me”?

  • I love Montreal and Quebec. Did you know that the SAC (Society d’Alcohol de Quebec – Provincial Liquor Stores) have ONLINE ordering and DELIVERY right to your door? BC has it’s head in the sand. Please sir, may I purchase an alcoholic beverage?

    • Ron

      Mon dieu! Right in the middle of socialist Quebec no less! I don’t know for sure but it’s a good chance they are collecting their share of taxes too!

      Wow, as a first step, emulate Quebec? You know that’s not too far to the right for this blog!

  • Everyman

    One year after the Stanley Cup Riots and people are arguing Vancouverites are adults who can handle their liquor? Sadly a big chunk of our population proved otherwise.

    • Ron

      I would rather they go ahead and water cannon the few that act riotous than nanny state beaurocracy the rest of us. No amount of nanny state rules, even outright banning, will stop the people who choose not to handle their liquour from not handling their liquor when they decide to.

  • boohoo

    By big chunk you mean a few hundred out of a few million? What percentage is that?

  • IanW

    Just as it seems no one goes to the movie theatre any more (but at least now those who do go the Rio can have a drink while there), hardly anyone goes to the billiard hall any more.

    Maybe that’s why no one is demanding changes to the rules regarding drinking there. Sure, in most billiard halls you can have drink; you just can’t drink where you’re playing pool (and it’s not to protect the tables). You must leave your drinks, mostly unattended in some penned off area.

    Why? To protect minors? See flawed logic in above scenario. To protect competition from pubs? If so, then how about protecting pool tables in pubs? Estimates are nearly 2/3 of the pool tables in pubs have been removed in Vancouver.

    Can’t go to the pool hall and have a drink while playing and can’t go to the pub and have a game while drinking!

    I’m sure the laws date back to when gambling was a “major problem” in billiard halls. That “problem” resolved itself when liquor licenses were granted to all the major casinos gambling floors, where blackjack, roulette, poker and craps tables wildly out number billiards tables in BC.

    • Ron

      Well now that the government has it firmly set up to get it’s (hugely un) fair portion of the alcohol AND gambling revenue you have to wonder what point there is in keeping these regulations.

      Oh, and I found a new regulation to wonder about. I went to get some offsales at like 11:15 on saturday night. Apparently can’t get them after 11:00.

      So I can’t go home with a six pack but in good news you CAN stay at the bar and drink six more before closing time. Odd how the law actually encouraged not going home this time!