Federal Competition Bureau calls for reforms to B.C. liquor laws

Published January 25, 2019

In an open letter to B.C. Attorney General David Eby, Canada’s interim competition commissioner, Matthew Boswell, has called for a more level playing field for businesses and more choice and lower prices for consumers as British Columbia continues to review its liquor policy. (Read the open letter)

Under the province’s current policy, private liquor distributors cannot sell their products to hospitality retailers. Restaurants, bars and hotels are limited to buying their alcohol products from government-owned stores at retail prices, as opposed to more affordable wholesale prices. The Competition Bureau says the policy restricts competition, raises prices for consumers, and limits access to a wider variety of specialty products.

The letter references a report released in April 2018 from a B.C. government-appointed advisory panel led by liquor-policy lawyer Mark Hicken and expresses support for two of its recommendations:

  • Hospitality licensees should not be restricted to buying their liquor products from government retail stores. Such licensees should be able to buy from any licensed source in B.C. including private retailers.
  • Hospitality licensees (restaurants/bars/hotels) should be sold liquor products at a proper wholesale price, as they are in other jurisdictions.

“Consumers want more choice, as demonstrated by the success of craft breweries, micro-distilleries and other innovative new producers,” the letter states. “Allowing the hospitality sector to buy from these producers, and any licensed source in B.C., could promote competition, driving even more innovation. In addition, by allowing bars, restaurants, and hotels to buy products at proper wholesale prices, stronger competition may lead to lower prices for consumers.”

Restaurants Canada applauds this message from the Competition Bureau, as well as the B.C. government’s ongoing efforts to update its antiquated liquor laws. Mark von Schellwitz, Restaurants Canada Vice President, Western Canada, will be attending a liquor industry event on Jan. 28 where B.C.’s attorney general will further address the Hicken report and an independent review of wholesale liquor distribution that the province is commissioning this year.

Click here to read more about the government’s pledge to commission a wholesale liquor distribution review.

Click here to read more about the advocacy work that Restaurants Canada has been leading related to the Hicken report.

Click here for more in-depth coverage of this issue of great importance for the province’s foodservice sector from Global News.

If you have any questions or would like more information, you can get in touch with Mark von Schellwitz, Restaurants Canada Vice President, Western Canada, at mark@restaurantscanada.org or 1-800-387-5649 ext. 6500.

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