SOUTH SURREY – Ask and you shall receive.
After years of criticism that B.C. was behind the times with antiquated liquor laws, wine officially became available at supermarkets for the first time on April
1. The move was but one of many made by the provincial government in a bid to "modernize" the province’s liquor policies, and a South Surrey Save-On-Foods was ground zero.
Indeed, the excitement at the Southpoint Save-On was palpable as crowds gathered before a huge white curtain in the centre of the store. Behind that curtain lay the province’s first supermarket wine section.
But not everyone thinks it’s such a good thing, Markita Kaulius among them.
"My family and I and members of Family for Justice don’t feel that it is necessary to have alcohol available in every grocery store," she said. "Alcohol is already available in so many places for the public to gain access."
Kaulius formed the victims’ rights group, which lobbies government for stiffer sanctions against impaired drivers, after a drunk driver killed her 22-year-old daughter Kassandra in 2011 in Surrey.
Markita Kaulius said she and her husband met Liberal MLA John Yap, parliamentary secretary for liquor policy reform, who headed up the government’s liquor policy review.
"The report said B.C.’s liquor industry is worth $2 billion, from sales, taxes and indirect revenue and it claimed 800,000 tourists make wine-related purchases in B.C.," Kaulius noted. "’That is more people than came to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics,’ the report said."
But, she added, it didn’t attempt to put a dollar figure on the cost to the economy of alcohol-related crime, punishment, injuries, illness and death. "It did mention 21,542 hospitalizations and 1,191 deaths due to alcohol in 2011.
"We all know that these laws were put in place not for the public’s convenience but because the government can make more money on sales and the taxes," Kaulius said. "There are already enough liquor stores available everywhere."
She says she suspects there will be more impaired driving crashes in future.
"I guess it is just a matter of time," Kaulius said. "It will be very interesting to see how the numbers will rise in the future."
Meantime, back at Save-On-Foods, before the proverbial floodgates were opened, those responsible for the changes shared a few thoughts.
Yap said the initiative was a long time coming. "This adds to the incredible work that’s been done on the liquor policy review. It’s been great to be a part of this process and see how far we’ve come," he said. "I toured the province listening to consumers for suggestions in modernizing liquor laws and in the end, we promised to update B.C.’s rules so that it would reflect modern day British Columbia.
"While there’s still plenty of work underway today, this really signifies an important milestone."
Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton said the beginning of the wine sales was "a milestone" for the province and followed through on "our promise to get out of the way and let B.C. businesses do what they do best: create jobs and enhance our economy."
And with a push of a button, Anton opened up the province’s first wine section within a supermarket, dropping the curtain to the floor and unveiling three aisles of vino.
"It’s great, much more convenient," said Dave Ennis, one of the first people in the province to take advantage of the new model.
Ennis said he specifically came to the store to buy wine on the first day, but his wife, Pearl, said she wasn’t sure if they would make it a regular thing.
"That’ll depend on the pricing," she said. While the South Surrey Save-On is the first in the province to roll out wine sales, others are expected to follow in the coming months.
Those purchasing wine at the grocer will have to bring their purchases through designated cash tills with certified 19+ cashiers. All of the wines at the Save-On hail from B.C. wineries, with more than 500 varieties representing nearly 100 B.C. producers.
Currently only B.C. produced wine is allowed to be sold in supermarkets. There is no distance restriction on the sales of B.C.-only wine, but to stock any other types of alcohol a supermarket cannot be within one kilometre of a private or government-owned liquor store.
On top of the start of wine sales, April 1 also marked other changes to the province’s liquor policies including refrigeration and extended hours for BC Liquor Stores, display prices no longer including tax (instead added at the till) and all liquor stores now purchasing goods at the wholesale price.