The Vancouver Scrum

On the move!

Agh! You’re still here? My new site and weblog, is now up and running; new posts are building up over there, never to be mirrored here. Go! What are you waiting for? All the stuff worth keeping has been migrated over to the new server, and I don’t anticipate making any more posts here.

Bloggers and webmasters: Update your links! Simply replace with in your blogrolls or bookmarks to point to the new site. Old posts will remain on this server for as long as the people at Blogger/Google allow them to remain; unfortunately, I’m not going to bother to come up with any way of converting permalinks on this blog to their corresponding posts on the new site. Yes, I plead laziness. I also realize the irony of switching away from Blogger just it starts to add features that the demanding blog nerds insist upon.

Thanks for reading and linking, and see you over at!

—Ian King, December 13, 2004

Monday, November 10, 2003


Booze News

An item from yesterday's Province says that the provincial government is slightly increasing the "wholesale discount" given to B.C.'s private liquor retailers. Don't expect the price of booze at a cold beer and wine or private liquor store to drop, though. You can chalk that up to the Campbell government's monumentally flawed attempt to change the way booze is sold in this province.

Here's a recap:

Back the day, the BC Liberals promised to get out of the liquor retail racket. The idea seemed a good one. Government liquor stores, aside from flagship outlets like the Cambie Street store in Vancouver, aren't pleasant places. Selection, while better than it was ten years ago, is still spotty. There was also the question of price, and whether a private operator could sell liquor for less by using low-wage employees, compared to the $19/hour that a government liquor store employee gets. The government's friends cheered, and only the B.C. Government Employees' Union objected -- which suited the Liberals just fine.

The idea (or so we thought) was that private stores would be allowed to sell all types of alcohol, and that they'd be able to compete on price, service, selection, or what-have-you. Victoria would shut down the government-owned liquor stores over the span of a few years. At the end, you'd have free competition, a thousand flowers would bloom, selection would be better, hours would be more convenient, and so forth. A drinker's paradise.

Yeah, right.

First off, Premier Gordon Campbell handled the booze file over to Rick Thorpe. It seemed like a good choice; Thorpe was once a Molson salesman. He's also a hothead who managed to alienate half the stakeholders in the liquor trade while hashing out a plan to get the government out of the liquor trade. Press on, though. When the plan was finally made public, it was half-baked. Not anyone could open a liquor store; only hotel and neighbourhood pubs would be given this privilege. (That might have been a concession to the pub operators, who weren't pleased about new rules allowing restaurants to serve drink without food, effectively allowing them to compete with pubs.)

Already, the dream of picking up some beer or wine with your groceries was dashed. It gets worse. Private liquor retailers wouldn't be allowed to undercut government store prices. So much for the promise of lower prices -- but wait, privatization proponents like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said that we'd get lower prices through competition! Oops. Not that a private store operator would be able to undercut the government stores, either: they'd have to buy their stock from the government at 90% of the retail price. The new stores would have to be small -- only 2,000 square feet of floor space. That's not enough to offer a wide selection. Suddenly, privatization looked less appealing.

That didn't keep pub owners from opening up liquor stores under the new rules. For pubs that already had a cold beer and wine outlet, it was just a matter of adding hard liquor to the inventory. Other places, like the Windsor Hotel in New Westminster, set about renovating their places to accommodate a liquor store. It was a worthwhile investment, or so it seemed. Once the local government liquor store shut down, they'd have to buy from you. The new stores were unimpressive: small, lousy selection, and they charged about 15% more than the government stores on any give product.

Meanwhile, the government was backflipping and twisting. Premier Gordon Campbell relieved Rick Thorpe of the liquor file, giving the responsibility from the mess over to Solicitor General Rich Coleman. The rules about store size changed: a private store could now have 6,000 square feet of retail space. There was also a bit of backroom dealing between the government and the employees' union on a deal that would save the government stores... which did pan out. Last month, the government did a 180 and announced that government liquor stores wouldn't close, after all. Oops. As for the bar owners that sunk thousands of dollars into adding liquor retail to their places, they were pissed off something fierce. This new discount on their wholesale price is small consolation for getting snookered by Campbell and Company.
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