Liquor sales rationed in B.C.

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The province is rationing alcohol sales at government-run liquor stores — and an industry group representing private outlets is warning of stock shortages ahead.

Effectively immediately upon the measure’s announcement Friday, Aug. 12, quantity limits at BC Liquor stores restrict all customers to three items per transaction — with the only exception being domestic and imported beer. Alcoholic beverage products sold in multiples, such as 4- or 6-packs, count as a single item.

The move is in response to a job action that shuttered BCL distribution centres this week. Members of the BC General Employees Union (BCGEU), one of the largest in the province, are picketing warehouses in an effort to persuade the provincial government to consider wage increases that are protected against rising inflation. Its contract with the Public Service Agency (PSA) officially expired April 1, and talks have been taking place since, but with desired outcomes several percentage points apart, the two sides were unable to reach agreement.

Notably, this includes “hospitality customers and retail customers,” according to a fact sheet from BC Liquor (BCL), adding strain to Salt Spring restaurants and bars preparing to feel the pinch of supply shock. Salt Spring Inn owner Jeremy Millsom said in-house operations there haven’t been affected yet — but if the parties don’t come together, it’s coming.

“We’re lucky in that we’re not as reliant on [revenue from] liquor sales as a pub or nightclub might be,” said Millsom. “We’re going to be impaired, and it’ll be a hardship, but it is what it is.”

“We are conscious of growing supply constraints,” read the statement from BCL, “and want to do what we can to ensure equal access to product for all customers during the BCGEU job action.”

While BCL characterized the restrictions as “modest quantity limits,” the Alliance of Beverage Licensees of BC (ABLE BC) issued its own statement Friday morning, warning its members of shortages, but stopping short of recommending privately owned liquor stores also enact limits.

“This extraordinary step is intended to curtail panic buying,” read ABLE’s statement. “While we understand why BC Liquor Stores is taking this extraordinary action, we are not recommending BC’s private liquor stores implement similar restrictions at this time.”

BCL says the restrictions will be in place until distribution centres return to normal operations.

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