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Liquor Stores Pack Political Punch

In one B.C. Liberal stronghold, anger uncorks over who can sell booze and where.

By Claudia Cornwall 7 Jun 2004 | TheTyee.ca
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"Books not booze!" said the sign, summing up the exasperation of about 200 protesters who were marching from Edgemont Village, a shopping area in North Vancouver, to the municipal council meeting on May 31. There were a couple of students in the crowd, but for the most part, the group consisted of lawyers, teachers, local retailers, other business people, and residents-not a radical fringe element among them. This is what impressed Ralph Sultan, the local MLA who has received over 250 letters and emails about the issue-"more," he says "than about the closure of hospitals, seniors' homes and grizzly bears all put together. Normally if we get a dozen letters on a subject, we consider it a big deal. This is a very active, heads-up group. You tinker with it at your peril. That's what's been happening."The tinkering Sultan speaks of is an on-going overhaul of the way liquor is sold and distributed in the province. As a result, Mary Trentadue, the owner of 32 Books, a small independent bookstore faces eviction. And a pub owner, Wayne Hussey, expects to open a cold beer and wine store on the premises. More than anything, the local residents are outraged by the lack of public consultation and this is a group of people who are not used to having their views overlooked.In Ralph Sultan's riding, West Vancouver Capilano, voters strongly backed the Liberals in the last provincial election-73 percent gave them the nod. They are accustomed to having the ear of government. At the council meeting, residents brought up several concerns: the lack of parking in Edgemont, the proximity of schools, the fact that the village already has a specialty wine store. Mostly they did want anyone tampering with the charm and family-oriented character of their community. A liquor store selling booze from 9 in the morning to 11 at night did not fit in with the way they saw the ambiance of the place.Owner moved early on new regulationsIn August 2002, the B.C. government lifted a ten-year moratorium on more cold beer and wine stores, allowing pub owners to open them on their existing properties. In November 2003, the province relaxed the rules even further letting pub owners have a wine and beer store anywhere within their municipalities or even within another municipality, provided it was less than 5 km. away. Hussey who owns Maplewood Pub in the eastern, more industrial part of North Vancouver, was the first pub owner in the province out of the starting gate. He secured a license for one of these stores from the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) right away. By March, the district had twigged to the changes underfoot and had changed the regulations to restrict where liquor stores could go and to require public consultation. But these regulations applied to newapplicants, not to those like Hussey who had already acquired a license. By May, Hussey had bought the property which housed the bookstore andwas preparing to give Trentadue the boot.Mary Trentadue blames the district for her woes. "I feel completely let down by the council. They completely missed the ball. It's their community. They're supposed to be looking after the people here. That's why we vote them in. It's their job. They completely blew it." Janice Harris, a long-time counselor blames the province. "The provincial government has been changing the goal posts so much with very little in the way of consultation with anybody. We've being trying to catch up. That's the genesis of the whole problem."MLA suggests shopping elsewhereClearly taken aback by the tempest, Ralph Sultan says there's nothing he can do. "I am bound not to approach the Liquor Board. It would put me in a conflict of interest situation. I have urged people to contact the LCLB. The General Manager has discretion. He may say his hands are tied but he has all sorts of discretion should he chose to exercise it." (In fact, the General Manager is a woman, Mary Freeman.)Sultan also says, "If the District takes an aggressive stand on this, there are an infinite range of rules and powers at their disposal. There's a lot they could do about it. Municipalities can harass people out of business if they set their mind to it. To say they are defenseless is not true, they have enormous powers. They can tax people. They have the power of life and death if they choose to use it."Daniel Jarvis, the MLA for the eastern part of North Vancouver has another suggestion, "When I was in Edgemont having my hair cut, I was besieged. I said, 'The last resort is public acceptance. All of you don't go to that liquor store. They're going to charge you a dollar more for a bottle of liquor. And some more for their wine."Supreme Court petition filedAdrian Chaster, a resident of Edgement and a retired lawyer, is taking the government to court on the issue. At the beginning of June, he filed a petition with the B.C. Supreme Court on behalf of Edgemont residents asking a judge to tell the General Manager of the Liquor Control Licensing Branch that she needs to hear from the public. "Under the act, she must consider the public interest, not just the business interest. The problem is now they have to unring the bell. The district did miss the boat and that's too bad but where we are now, she has the discretion. There is clearly an issue involving the public interest here and she was aware of that when she issued the approval. She's not complied with her statutory duty.""Freedom of choice" is at stake, counters Hussey. "A store like ours," he told The Tyee, "would provide greater choice and be convenient. People have said we don't need another liquor store. But there are four banks in the village. Do we really need four banks? My store would not be disruptive. I'd choose a quaint decor to keep with the Sleepy Hollow-type feeling."Hussey hinted at "another agenda" underlying his reception in Edgemont. Pointedly he said that his business partner's name was Allen Wong. He has already spent 1.3 million to buy the store in Edgemont. He's not about to retreat. He has hired a lawyer and vows, "We will stay the course."Meanwhile, the mayor of North Vancouver, Don Bell, is trying to appease the residents. On May 31, his council voted to support Adrian Chaster's petition. Bell, the Liberal candidate in upcoming federal election, finds himself tied to an unexpected hot button issue that maycost him votes.

North Vancouver journalist Claudia Cornwall has written for a variety of publications including The Globe and Mail and Reader's Digest.  [Tyee]

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