Craft beers should now also be allowed in grocery stores, says columnist. (Contributed)

MacDuff’s Call: Province cares more about beer drinkers

Simple solution is for government to make fair access to alcohol sales market.

Addiction comes in all forms and many are socially acceptable.

I will be the first to admit that I am addicted to coffee. I get a headache in the morning if I don’t get my first cup into me within 15 to 30 minutes of waking up. I obsess on getting it when I am in need of one and it is the one staple that I will never allow to run out in my household.

And although coffee is a mild addiction in the grand scheme of them, it still warrants countless health studies to determine the impacts of over-consumption. The pendulum seems to swing with each study as to whether it is good for us, or not.

However, being a true addict, I tend to be selective on the studies that I believe, because of the fact that I like drinking coffee way too much to even consider giving it up.

However, I don’t feel alone, as I find even the government has tendencies somewhat like mine, as it, too, likes to pick and choose which studies to pay attention to and which ones to ignore if the conclusions don’t serve its end – especially if that end is tied to revenue.

For instance, recently, B.C. Att. Gen. David Eby stated that his government is not interested in expanding alcohol availability into the grocery stores that have licenses to sell B.C. wines.

A response from him prompted by the recent agreement between Canada and the U.S. – that the trade deal between Canada, the United States and Mexico known as CUSMA – no longer permitted the former to deny international wines access to Canadian grocery store shelves, if Canadian wines were allowed.

Immediately, local craft beer producers and enthusiasts put the challenge forward that craft beers should now also be allowed, as the previous position of them not being allowed, because of their ingredients not been solely locally sourced, was no longer defensible in the face of international products now being allowed to be sold in licensed grocery stores.

Eby could have given consideration to this, but instead, pulled the addiction card and shut the craft beer industry out of the stores.

Eby was interviewed about the subject multiple times and he continually made references to health studies about B.C.’s concerning track record for alcohol abuse and hospitalizations from over-consumption.

He mentioned that binge drinking was on the increase and that B.C. has become the worst province in Canada for hospitalizations as a result of alcohol.

He was adamant that his government wants to see less consumption, not more, so the craft beer industry is out of luck, because allowing it into the existing licensed grocery stores, based on Eby, will move alcohol consumption in the wrong direction.

Eby’s comments could have been taken seriously if the government announced in the same breath that it would immediately review the rationale for having wine sales in grocery stores, now that the advantage to the local wine industry had been lost.

After all, if alcohol is a problem, it is a problem, and the government should take reasonable steps to reduce such when given the opportunity.

As it stands now, over-consuming wine drinkers have better access to the market, but over-consuming beer drinkers are restricted.

I guess beer drinkers could take that to heart and be grateful that the government cares more about their addiction than that of the wine drinkers

But I doubt that’s comforting to the beer producers who know the wine industry is a formidable competitor for the consumers’ money.

READ ALSO: How we are going to fund health care in B.C.

Presently, the sale of alcohol across Canada is split between beer, at 41 per cent, wine, at 37 per cent. All other alcohol is at 23 per cent.

A simple solution the government could have considered would be to allow the beer industry into the stores, but retain the existing floor space requirements within the store licenses and ensure that it be shared equally.

This provides fairness in the market for the beer producers and reduces product availability, which the government apparently wants to achieve. Problem solved – at least within the realm of allowing fair access for all to the market.

However, this does not address alcohol addiction, which the government and the public should rightly be concerned with.

The public would be better served if the government developed a strong public health platform, including a robust alcohol consumption reduction program, as that approach has proven effective in reducing alcohol consumption in countries that have adopted such methods, such as the Netherlands and Portugal.

But then, government would have to give up its addiction to the tax revenue that comes with alcohol sales – $6.1 billion annually into government coffers in Canada.

I know how hard it is to give up my addiction, but then I only have myself to hurt.

The provincial government, with its addiction to ‘addiction taxes,’ those applied to tobacco and alcohol, is hurting us all and it is time to stop paying lip service with trivial moves, like the recent punitive stand against the beer industry, and develop a public health platform that truly takes aim at addiction.

Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor, constituency assistant and citizen of the year, and currently president of ARMS.

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