Vancouver city council votes to change liquor licencing rules

The quest to make Vancouver a “fun city” continues after city council voted in favour of changing liquor licencing rules specific to the city.

The move from council on Wednesday gets rid of rules that dictate seating capacity for bars and nightclubs, as well as how close these establishments can be to each other.

Council also removed a moratorium on new liquor-primary businesses in the Granville Entertainment District, Chinatown, Gastown, Thornton Park, and the Victory Square areas.

A similar moratorium remains in place for the Downtown Eastside, but city staff are consulting with area stakeholders on options to review that policy in early 2024.

ABC Vancouver Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung argues it didn’t make sense for the city to adhere to “made-in-Vancouver” liquor licencing rules, saying they were unfair to businesses.

“If you ran the same establishment in Vancouver, you’d have [fewer] people in it than Burnaby or Prince George,” Kirby-Yung said. “I’m just at a loss to understand why Vancouver has to be different than anywhere else.”

“The considerations around responsible operators are important, the consideration of any social impacts are obviously critically important, but we need an environment where Vancouver at least has a fighting chance and is similar to all the other municipalities in British Columbia,” she continued.

The changes will also allow businesses like spas and barber shops to obtain liquor licences.

OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle was the only one who voted against the move, pointing to the public-health and safety risks of expanding access to alcohol.

Industry pushes for change, public health warns of risks of alcohol

Bert Hick, a liquor and cannabis licencing expert with Rising Tide Consultants, told council Wednesday that changes are needed to improve the quality of Vancouver’s nightlife.

“With respect to the moratorium on Granville Street, my view is moratoriums just prop up the dinosaurs, it does not allow for creativity, innovation, and a new opportunity to breathe life in. You’re just propping up the cheap bars, with cheap drinks, and you end up with drunks. I think you need to have that creativity and innovation to allow us to compete with other cities.” Hick said.

However, Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, pointed out that any increased access to alcohol will have negative impacts.

“The recommendations will increase alcohol availability in multiple ways, which will lead to greater consumption of alcohol and greater alcohol-related harms to the health of the Vancouver population,” Daly said.

“I understand the proposals are popular with the public and are put forward with the intent of improving the vibrancy of the city and improving the business community,” she added. “What concerns me is the scale of what is proposed today, which could result in the single-largest expansion of alcohol availability at any single point of time in Vancouver without any countermeasures to address the public-health harms from increased consumption of alcohol.”

In light of the concerns brought forward by Daly, Boyle put forward an amendment that would require city staff to report back on ways to mitigate the harms of increased alcohol consumption.

That amendment passed unanimously.

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