On Wednesday, April 22 (Earth Day) I rose to speak to Bill 22: Special Wine Store Licence Auction Act. This Bill provides government with the legislative power to create an auction for wine licenses in support of a wine-on-shelves in grocery store model. In my opinion, this bill creates a multi-tiered system that preferentially favours large grocery chains over small business. It is following a similar pattern to what we are seeing emerging with government legislation. It’s a pattern that is putting more and more power in the hands of the minister to do whatever he or she wants to do, with little legislative accountability. The only reason this legislation is being brought forward at all is because the auction “bids” that government receives are ultimately defined as a “tax” whose collection requires consent of the legislature.
To give a specific example of how this bill might hurt small business, we have to look no further than the locally-owned Peppers Food Store in Cadboro Bay Village.
In 1962 John Pepper opened a Shop Easy grocery store at the location. In the early 80’s John Davits and his partner bought the store after working in the meat department for Mr. Pepper. Once they took ownership, the community voted on a new name and it was renamed Pepper’s Food Store. John then became sole owner in 1990, although he has been either employed there or owner for over 35 years. Currently, he is in the process of turning over the day to day operations to his son, Cory, who has worked at the store in many capacities for over 25 years. Peppers is a grocery story with an area of 7,500 square feet. It does not qualify as a “grocery store” under the government’s definition that a “grocery store” referred to in the act has an area of at least 10,000 square feet. Peppers Foods owner John Davits publicly expressed concern over the fairness of this Bill. I concur.
Of course Pepper’s isn’t the only grocery store in Oak Bay-Gordon Head that doesn’t qualify. For example, the local grocery store that my family and I get most of our groceries from is Mount Doug Market owned by Carol and Cori Lau (it’s walking distance from our house). They too have an area less than 10,000 square feet yet they too only sell groceries to local residents.
This legislation grants government regulatory power to prescribe “…the number of special wine store licenses in respect of which bids may be accepted under this Act.” In essence, claims made in the media that there will be no new licenses are certainly not evident from this act. The legislation exempts “grocery stores” that win an auction license from the “one-kilometre rule” (prohibiting “store within store” grocery store liquor outlets being established within one kilonmetre of an existing distributer).
Here I worry about the Tuscany Village Metro Liquor store that has developed an excellent reputation for it’s special focus on wine, especially BC VQA wines. There are three larger grocery stores very close by that could undercut their market significantly, especially in light of the special pricing specialty wine store license auction holders are entitled to. Locally-owned small businesses are being unfairly treated. This is not right and I am absolutely bewildered why government wouldn’t ensure that small business in our community is protected. Small business in the engine of our economy.
Finally, the fact that these specialty wine store licenses restrict grocery stores to carry BC wine, cider or sake on their shelves may not be allowable under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). If we look specifically at Annex 312 of NAFTA it seems pretty clear to me that this act is simply not going to stand up to a NAFTA challenge. I wll be raising this at committee stage when we continue debate on the bill next week.
I was not alone in opposing the Bill as is evident in the second reading vote below.
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