With the provincial government currently seeking input on its liquor laws from municipalities across B.C., the Resort Municipality of Whistler could once again lead the push for reform.
Following consultation with licensed resort establishments and stakeholders last month, municipal staff compiled a number of recommendations that reflect the evolving marketplace, and seek to improve the guest experience and licensing process.
Perhaps the most significant recommendation surrounds the level of control the municipality currently holds over the licensing. Specifically, municipal staff will request the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) give the RMOW more authority over the approval of temporary license changes for existing establishments and Special Occasion Licenses (SOL) for events. A temporary license change would be required if, for example, an establishment was seeking to change its liquor service hours, or add an entertainment component to the venue. SOL approval would be needed for events such as a community festival or outdoor concert.
“We would like the government to authorize Whistler as a visitor-focused resort community to exercise more control in approving temporary license changes and special occasion licensed events,” said municipal planner Frank Savage in a presentation to council Tuesday (Oct. 1). “We would like to retain that control and we feel that we have all the capability of reviewing those types of applications.”
Liquor service providers noted lengthy processing times of up to six weeks for these types of licenses under the LCLB as well. Under current regulations, existing establishments can only make between four to six temporary changes to their liquor license in a year, a limit staff will also ask the province to reconsider.
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden isn’t concerned about staff’s additional workload if Whistler’s recommendations are approved and the bulk of temporary and special occasions licensing falls to the RMOW.
“There’s so much work that’s done internally now anyway that I wouldn’t anticipate there would be a tremendous amount of additional work, but the trade-off of course is local decision making, which is a good thing,” she said.
Municipal staff will also recommend the LCLB allow more flexibility in the service of liquor in food-primary establishments, while still maintaining the licensing distinction between restaurants and bars, and will push the province to provide more clarity on the policy regulating how much alcohol can be served to a customer at said venues without dramatically increasing the current capacity of all licensed facilities, just over 40,000.
A recommendation first introduced in a 2012 policy paper spearheaded by Whistler at the Union of B.C.Municipalities Convention that has yet to be supported by Victoria will also be included in the RMOW’s submission, asking that catering licensed events not be required to have a food focus, as was the case during post-event festivities at last month’s GranFondo.
Municipal Hall will also be seeking further changes to SOL regulations that say only a charitable cause, like the Whistler Community Services Society who sponsored the license for September’s Whistler Village Beer Festival, can turn a profit.
“Currently only a charitable cause can make a profit, and then all the profits of the event have to go to the charity, so that inhibits events,” said Savage.
The RMOW will also ask the province to consider allowing minors in liquor primary establishments past the current time of 8 p.m., provided they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.
With the success of GranFondo’s festival-style license allowing drinking with minors present, the municipality hopes to have the ear of B.C.’s Attorney General Suzanne Anton to potentially ease existing regulations.
“To see that type of event where there wasn’t segregation with children outside, I think it’s a really mature approach and it’s high-time it was adopted in B.C.,” said Coun. Roger McCarthy. “I’m really happy to see Whistler is leading the charge still.”
Tuesday also saw council approve several amendments to Whistler’s liquor licensing policy to reflect recent changes to provincial legislation. Among the amendments is the addition of a review process for brewery or distillery lounge or special event areas that is identical to the process for a new liquor primary license. The muni will also alter how it calculates maximum occupant loads for standing areas at temporarily licensed events. Currently, the RMOW uses the same formula to determine occupant load for indoor functions as it does outdoor events with standing areas. The new guideline would result in a 58 per cent increase in occupant load for standing areas, and would not apply to outdoor areas with seating and tables.
“The changes recommended are intended to facilitate events without compromising fire safety or the ability to police,” Savage said.
The municipality has until Nov. 25 to submit their recommendations to the province.