Kurtis Kolt and Jake Skakun

Jan 2012
Dear Mr. Mayor,
Wine by 
  at 10:02 am | 10 Comments »

Hey there, Mr. Mayor!

I know you’re incredibly busy, so I’ll try to keep this fairly brief.

I am not writing this post from the standpoint of someone who habitually votes for you and the Vision Vancouver party (though I do,) nor am I writing this as someone who happily consumes a few gallons of various Happy Planet Juices each year (the Abundant-C is my favourite. What’s yours?)

I’m writing this as a Vancouver enthusiast and as a local wine-industry professional who works with hotels, restaurants, wine stores and does many events and seminars with the general public. From my East Van Wine Academy educational events at The Waldorf Hotel to my various capacities with the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, to my Westender column and beyond, I take much pride in being able to contribute to the city’s culture in my own little way.

I’d taken note of the Tweet you’d sent out the other day and had one of those “a-ha” moments.

Now, I totally agree with you and Councillor Deal regarding our ridiculous provincial liquor laws, with the Rio Theatre‘s fresh liquor-primary license allowing live events but not movie screenings (seriously, what’s up with that?) – it’s incredibly encouraging to see the City flexing a little muscle to support small business and common sense. I commend you for also initiating the #UpdateLiquorLaws hashtag. Good one!

So here’s what I’m thinking:

I don’t have to tell you about the incredible hypocrisy and confounding logic behind many of our current provincial liquor laws. And I realize that we’re not going to reinvent the wheel in one fell swoop; but if there’s an opportunity to call on the Province to re-open those dusty old books- may I remind you of a few other current regulations that hurt small business, stifle Vancouver’s quality of life and prevent us from being on par with the majority of other great cities of the world:

  • Licensees (restaurants and bars) get zero wholesale discount when purchasing alcohol to re-sell in their establishments. This is one of the many challenges of running a sustainable business that employs a significant percentage of the workforce and contributes greatly to the city’s culture.
  • Catering companies cannot obtain Special Occasion Licenses for their clients’ events, nor can they acquire the alcohol for them. According to Tourism Vancouver, the city misses out on many opportunities and revenue due to this.
  • Special Occasion Licenses cannot be obtained for any commercial purpose. This theoretically halts any proper wine education in Vancouver. Whether via the Wine & Spirit Education Trust or International Sommelier Guild, educational sit-down tastings (if people pay for them) are not lawful in BC. How could Vancouver retain it’s position as a respected, global dining destination if we can’t properly educate those looking to contribute to the city’s wine culture?

Sir, I absolutely empathise with the Rio’s plight. The laws are absurd. I am encouraged to see City Council step up to the Province and make some noise about this. My four points above are just the first four things that popped into my head that hurt small business and embarrass our city on a regular basis.

I haven’t even gotten into the two-week turnaround time for licensees to receive ordered product from the BCLDB warehouse in Richmond (and that it’s illegal for licensees or agents to go there,) the 123% import tax that makes wine and alcohol more expensive here than almost every other jurisdiction in North America, that BYO in restaurants is illegal, and many other things that makes Vancouver lag behind.

All of these out-of date liquor laws hurt business and hurt our city. We are not keeping up with global colleagues because of this. Small business struggles. Big business struggles.

The problems and issues are not limited to the Rio Theatre. I hate to say it but they are a drop in the bucket and indicative of a larger problem. There are countless other businesses that suffer just as much as them, if not more.

We have tried so hard, time after time, to deal with the Province on this, only to be shunned, turned away and bullied.

On your party’s website there is a quote from you that reads, “We need your support to keep Vancouver moving forward.

Sir, myself and a host of others affected by these Prohibition-era laws are eager to work with you toward a better future for Vancouver. You have had our continued support.

May we have yours?

I’d love to hear from you.


Kurtis Kolt

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10 Responses:

Michael Kushnir said:

I believe that the Cultural Services department will be doing a big review of Liquor policy as it relates to both the City and the Province as phase 2 of the Live Spaces Review. Contact Jacqueline Gijssen for more info!

Bradley Cooper said:

Good work, Kurtis. I think many of your points are key. It’s time to rewrite the prohibitionist liquor regs and it can’t come to soon. Perhaps even in our lifetimes! Each regulation is based on the ownership of the alcohol. If the government (Crown) owns it, it is entitled to do charge what it wants and to regulate as it will. The entire liquor control environment reeks of “we know what is best and we have the mandate to prove it”.

Shea said:

As a technical point, most of the issues that arise are not because of laws or regulations. Rather, most of the complaints arise from BCLDB and LCLB policy. That is a fine, but important, distinction as with policy no action by the legislature is required to change the ‘rules’ and all policies must adhere to basic administrative law principles such as reasonable exercise of discretion and procedural fairness.

Mike said:

I really don’t get why you’re spending so much time focussing on the Mayor. He’s supportive already and clearly doing a lot. Why don’t you focus on getting the BC governments attention on this instead? Seems like you’re trying to shoot at the Province but putting a bullet through the Mayor in the process. Pretty dumb ass move to shoot your friends.

Kurtis said:

Thanks for the comments, Mike. I could probably do without terms like “dumb ass,” but this is the comments section of a blog after all.

Many of us in all aspects of the restaurant/wine/booze industry have repeatedly tried approaching the Province on a myriad of these points, to pretty much no avail. We have spent much of our careers (time, resources, money, energy) focussing on getting their attention, only to be turned away and occasionally bullied, if responded to at all. This recent Georgia Straight story illustrates a small portion of the difficulty of our plight: http://straight.com/article-393232/vancouver/ye-olde-liquor-rules-still-sting .

The city has occasionally been successful in affecting change within the Provincial governments liquor regulatory system (late-night hours, etc.) With the current issues surrounding the Rio Theatre, the city is once again stepping up to the plate, supporting business and if rumblings coming out of Victoria are correct.- once again affecting regulatory change.

My point is, rather than every year or so dealing one small issue when it blows up, I would like to see the City of Vancouver attempt to swing broader change that will benefit way more people.

Put it this way- I think Christy Clark, Kevin Falcon, Shirley Bond and Jay Chambers would be a little more likely to answer our calls and really listen to us if we had the backing of the Mayor and City Hall. It’s worked in the past with smaller, specific issues- I’d just like to see it done with broader ones.

And I don’t quite agree with your “putting a bullet through the mayor” analogy. In fact, my sentiments concerning him and city council in this post are never negative and practically fawning. I’ve been a long-time, loud champion of Gregor Robertson and continue to be. Just as with an approach to the BC government, I believe it makes sense for the Mayor to see that there is some critical mass in this situation for it to be worth his time before he continues with this issues beyond the Rio’s fight. The overall positive reception, wide sharing and behind-the-scenes conversations and e-mails regarding my post seem to be illustrating immense support.

Time will tell.



Andrew said:

Thanks for your letter! I happen to enjoy tequila quite a bit, and the fines are outrageous to bring it across the border.

If I bought a bottle of Aha Toro Reposado tequila here at a BC Government store, it would cost $79.99. http://www.bcliquorstores.com/product/586644 If I bought it in a WA government store, it would cost $51.95. If I bought it over the border and was charged, it would cost me $90.91 in fees, for a total of $142.86. That would buy me TWO bottles in Canada, and the fees by themself are more than a bottle costs in the store in Canada! That is insanity!

cgg said:

I hope you feel our love and support all the way from the Tricities. Well written letter Kurtis. Vancouverites are lucky to have someone championing this cause.

Robert said:

Andrew, I can give you an even more egregious example of greedy BC liquor board markup. I recently purchased a 750ml bottle of Ridgemont 1792 bourbon in a WA State liquor store for $35 (remember WA State stores are still gov’t owned and union employed). On the weekend I was in the Signature liquor store in Langley and noticed a “new” listing: Ridgemont 1792. The price: SEVENTY FIVE DOLLARS. Double the WA retail and add five bucks?? The dollar is at par. This is outrageous price gouging by a hard line monopoly.

Stephen the Sensible said:

Thank you for this post. It is quite clear that an overwhelming sensible majority are in complete agreement.

Though as you point out: to exhaustively list what is wrong seems an impossible task.

In addition to availability of beer or wine with my bread and cheese; the hope that one day farmer’s markets might be able to trade in wine still seems so far. I often consider the typical festival experience in BC where, in order to enjoy a glass of wine, you must:

a) stand in line for a long time; and
b) be roped off like a zoo animal

There are many examples of the LCB simply spoiling arts events and senselessly frustrating organizers…often applying this mysterious veil: ‘the threat to public safety’.

Just look at the Whistler Jazz Festival recently:


Quite similar with pride week:


Indeed, this issue with the Rio Theatre has resonated because it is about so much more than simply enjoying a glass of wine at a movie. It is about this Province being unable to sanction a simple modern, multimedia venue…which is but *one* of a shedload of problems working to portray B.C. as a cultural backwater.

PS: I have all the respect in the world for the very strong arts community in Vancouver… persisting through the years despite all of this. I am hopeful for change though I fear another small amendment to the general prohibition-era approach.

Anonymous said:

This is true, but however bad wine lovers think they have it, they have no idea how bad it is to try and be an artisan, small scale distiller in British Columbia. Unless you make swill you are primed to lose money trying to do this.

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