Rural BC Liquor Licensees & Consumers Suffer Under Inconsistent BCLDB Policies

How would you feel if you had to drive 170 km for a case of beer? This is the case for the residents of Manson Creek, an isolated town north of Prince George. In winter months driving in this area can be treacherous. In small BC towns, it’s vital that residents have easy access to public amenities, yet, for apparently no good reason, BCLDB (BC Liquor Distribution Branch) denied Manson Creek’s only would-be rural store a BC liquor license.

The BC Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) should, in this case, change its name to the BC Liquor “Non-Distribution” Branch. The purpose of the BCLDB is to provide for the distribution and retail sale of liquor products throughout the entire province of British Columbia. In small and remote communities where it doesn’t make economic sense to operate a full BC liquor store, the BCLDB can issue a Rural Agency Store appointment to a full-service grocery or general store in the community.

The Omineca General Store is the only full-service grocery store in Manson Creek. The owners applied to the BCLDB for a Rural Agency Store appointment in order to sell liquor products in their store.  This would save the permanent and part-time residents and tourists from having to drive 170 km to Mackenzie or 186 km to Fort St. James to purchase liquor products.

However, the BCLDB dashed the hopes of local residents when the Omineca General Store owners received a letter refusing their BC liquor license application, stating that Manson Creek’s small population was insufficient to meet the criteria for a Rural Agency Store appointment. BCLDB policy guidelines require, as a minimum, a permanent population of 200 persons living within a 5 km driving distance of the store. The current policy guidelines (stress on the word “guidelines”, which unlike “regulations” should be discretionary) don’t account for a transient population, resource workers in the mining industry or other industry work camps, or tourists. If the BC Liquor Distribution Branch did consider these populations, whether seasonal and/or transient, Manson Creek’s actual population would be well over the 200 residents requirement.

Causing the current general store owners and town residents further consternation is the fact that BCLDB issued a Rural Agency Appointment to the owners of a previous general store in the community. When the owners of that store retired and sold their store, they surrendered their Rural Agency Appointment since this type of appointment cannot be transferred to another party. However, if the population of the same town of the same size was sufficient to issue an appointment to the previous owners, why would the same appointment not be issued to the current owners of the only general store in the community?  Wouldn’t the same considerations apply?

The BCLDB decision to deny the Omineca General Store a BC liquor license leaves the residents of Manson Creek and surrounding area with no other option but to drive 170 km in adverse weather during the winter months to purchase liquor products. To place that drive into perspective, the drive to Whistler from Vancouver is about 87 km and to drive from Vancouver to Seattle is 202 km! All that for a bottle of wine or a case of beer? It was easier to get liquor during prohibition!

The BCLDB should exercise discretion in this case and approve the application by Omineca General Store. By not approving it, the government is unwittingly promoting bootlegging and the illegal sale of liquor in the region. In addition, the approval would not cost the government a cent because the store owners would drive to the government stores in Mackenzie and Fort St. James to pick up the product that would be for sale in their general store.

Summary

The purpose of the BCLDB is to provide all BC residents access to liquor products. They have failed in the case of Manson Creek.  BCLDB’s decision shows an insensitivity to people living and working in remote areas of BC, a lack of flexibility, and uneven application of BC liquor licensing guidelines. Until the government gives more consideration to BC’s remote communities, Manson Creek’s residents, workers and tourists must continue to drive on and on…