Bottles of wine on display at a delicatessen. In a territorial government-issued survey of nearly 450 Yukoners, 62 per cent said they support stand-alone private liquor stores and 65 per cent support allowing grocery stores to sell some liquor products. (123RF.com)

Yukon liquor survey finds a desire for alcohol in grocery stores

‘Given that the public has given us an indication on it, that’s something we’ll consider’

Yukoners can expect to see changes to the Liquor Act in 2019.

John Streicker, the minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation, said the government has decided to pass both amendments to the act and the required regulations at the same time next fall.

The government had originally planned to introduce amendments to the act this fall and then spend a year writing the regulations before any changes would come into effect.

“What we decided to do was to hold off on bringing forward amendments to the act and to develop the regulations and the amendment to the act at the same time. Our timeline is still for the fall of next year by the time we get it all said and done,” Streicker said.

The government issued a summary of what was discussed at 44 meetings in 14 communities starting last December. Nearly 450 Yukoners participated in the survey.

In the survey 62 per cent of people said they support stand-alone private liquor stores and 65 per cent support allowing grocery stores to sell some liquor products, such as local products.

“I think it’s fair to say that given that the public has given us an indication on it, that’s something we’ll consider,” Streicker said.

The minister said he’s not concerned about what that would mean for the government-run liquor stores but said the government will have to consider what that might mean for private retail.

“More importantly, I think is the deeper question. As you read through the ‘what we heard’ (report) you’ll also hear Yukoners want us to take even more responsibility to create a culture of responsible consumption of alcohol,” Streicker said.

“So we have to do that in a way — we need to make sure that however access is provided, however the retail market exists, it needs to be encouraging the responsible consumption.”

The minister said some changes discussed at the meeting could come into effect through new policies instead of waiting for the act to change.

One suggestion was to look at small producer pricing and the implications of enabling local producers to sell directly to consumers and licensees.

Streicker said there are ways to be supportive of local businesses but also stay onside with national free trade agreements and external alcohol producers.

“I think their real issue is whether the markup structure is fair given that one of the rationales around markup is that we have to handle the alcohol as it comes through our warehouse,” Streicker said.

Under the current system, markup on alcohol is based on annual production levels and not on whether the product actually shows up in the liquor corporation’s warehouse.

For example, Streicker said, the government needs to have a clear rationale behind why it is charging for a service. “But it’s fair to say that if you haven’t had to handle that (alcohol), that your cost of service can be zero or just a nominal cost of service because you still have to deal with the paperwork.”

Streicker said changes to the mark-up system policy will be brought to cabinet before the act is changed though he said it was too early to talk about a specific timeline.

The Yukon government had been planning to bring in changes to alcohol prices this summer. That was halted after businesses complained they hadn’t been adequately consulted.

“We pulled it back because there wasn’t enough engagement with the bars and restaurants so now we’re going back to do that work,” Streicker said.

Streicker said the next step is to create a new advisory committee to get into the details of what could be part of the amended act.

He said the new committee will have representatives from municipalities, First Nations, businesses and groups that deal with harm reduction.

Those meetings will be about some of the tensions that exist between what Yukoners want out of the act, he said.

“(People want the government to) increase access but make sure that that access is done in a safe way or increase support for our local food and beverage industry but at the same time also make sure that we’re reducing the harmful affects of alcohol when it is used excessively and inappropriately,” he said.

“Well, that takes a deeper conversation.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

Correction: This story was updated to correct a mistake regarding when the changes will begin. Amendments to the act and the required regulations will come at the same time in fall 2019.

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