Friday Night Liquor Story

By Leeann Froese Ho-ly! Well what a day it has been, if you work in liquor in our Province.

And I have something to add. Today I met with British Columbia Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton.

Earlier this week I got an email from Anton's office asking if I could meet with her this week. It was stimulated by an email I sent in December to Anton and copied in premier Christy Clark, MLA John Yap, and MLA Rich Coleman.

I had no reply to that initial letter until 10 weeks later when I received a form letter. In the meantime, the trade and media became increasingly vocal on social media as the weeks passed, and I followed the situation along with our winery clients. At one point I shared a couple links to YouTube posts of governmental debates that mentioned our clients in the Legislature, and commented how the situation was a total sh*t show.

So today I spent an hour with Anton in her office. I had never met her before, had no particular love or hate toward her, and no expectation of how the conversation would go. I queried why she had contacted me to meet today, of all days, when the pricing was going to be announced, and how any consultation seemed after-the-fact. It turned out that her office had taken some notice of what I've been sharing on social media and she sought a chance to chat with me. Also, I'm one of her constituents; her office is conveniently up the road from me.

I found her to be very accessible, open to feedback, and she was as open and candid with me as I was with her.

As an industry stakeholder I explained that Andrew and I own our burgeoning marketing agency with a specialty in wine, and we attempt to make a modest living as well as support others via our promotional work with wineries in BC and from overseas. I stated that our clients’ success at the retail shelf and in restaurants is our success too, and the new price model set to be implemented on April 1, 2015 is being very negatively received by BC’s wine and liquor industry. This industry does not feel that they have been asked for input and they are very nervous about what the final prices will be.

She shared with me that the government knows there are some people who are not happy but there's also people who will be happy, most of all consumers, who, as we have all been reminded, now get to enjoy happy hour, wine at farmer’s markets, and soon in select grocery stores. (I admit I personally am pretty glad about happy hour.)

But I said to her again that I did think it was a sh*t show (and yes I used those words) that the industry had a lack of consultation and that the numbers are not public, and that our winery clients are frustrated and uncertain. I also noted that the private retailers, who stand to take a hit in their margin, are an important trade channel for both our domestic and international wine clients. I mentioned that private retailers are frustrated that they cannot sell to restaurants, and Anton indicated this situation will not change.

I also said that she must have noticed that among all of my cohorts the talk is most negative, and that key wine writers had a lot to say on the matter. She said that she had not directly spoken to these wine writers, but would if she had been approached.

Among further discussion on the topic she shared with me that any price fluctuations will be minor and the announcement that was going to follow today was the release of the information to hospitality customers. I didn't really clue in that ‘hospitality customers’ meant that the public was not going to see what the wholesale markup model is going to be, so I am disappointed that after all this waiting, we still don’t all know the prices.

At this late hour I am drafting this post and the day is all but over. Many of my clients and journalists have gone to bed, but that was not before the online world was set aflame with indignation and frustration. Sigh.

However, being the glass-half-full person I am, I want to end this post with a glimmer of hope, and that is that it’s still a very much a time of change in our province. The liquor act is being analyzed from end to end and rewritten, and that job is not finished yet. The government remains open to ideas and feedback so I definitely recommend anyone in the industry or otherwise who has something to share should contact their MLA. Especially if you come across any rules or laws that seem to be antiquated or silly.

A last note from my meeting: Anton said that any media or trade writing on the topic of liquor should reach out to her communications person Jeff Groot.

Now I will watch and wait.