North Cowichan council votes against liquor in groceries

The sale of liquor in grocery stores in North Cowichan will continue to be prohibited.

The sale of liquor in grocery stores in North Cowichan will continue to be prohibited.

That’s the decision that the municipality came to after a lengthy discussion at the council meeting on Dec. 21.

There are only two grocery stores in North Cowichan that currently fit the provincial regulations to sell liquor, the 49th Parallel Store in Chemainus and the Thrifty Foods store at Beverly Corners. They meet the criteria of being at least 10,000 sq. ft. and have at least 70 per cent of their revenues from food sales.

But the majority of council felt that the social and health implications of opening more liquor outlets in the community would be too high.

Staff had recommended council not prohibit liquor sales in grocery stores.

Scott Mack, North Cowichan’s director of development services, explained that from a land-use and planning perspective, the municipality doesn’t differentiate between retail stores so there’s no rationale for it to deny liquor sales in grocery stores.

“Staff doesn’t disagree that there are also social and health questions here, but those issues fall under provincial jurisdiction and it’s not appropriate for us to delve into that,” Mack said.

Coun. Joyce Behnsen asked how many liquor outlets North Cowichan needs.

“Making access to alcohol easier is not good for society,” she said.

“I’m concerned about our youth and I don’t think it’s advisable to have too many accessible points for then to acquire alcohol.”

Coun. Kate Marsh agreed, stating that she doesn’t think it’s wise for young children to be exposed to alcohol sales in grocery stores.

“What kind of a message do we want to give to our young people?” she asked.

“I’m not against alcohol, but I feel we must support those who are trapped in addictions and help keep them from temptation.”

But Coun. Maeve Maguire said the reason the issue is before council is because a number of local liquor outlets asked for a bylaw amendment to prevent grocery stores from selling alcohol.

She said North Cowichan operates in a free market.

“Some fast-food restaurants are not as healthy as other restaurants, but we don’t deny their applications for new locations based on that,” Maguire said.

“The conversation has already taken place at the provincial level on this issue, and I think we’re making a lot of assumptions about the behaviour of consumers that’s not fair.”

Coun. Rob Douglas disagreed, stating the concerns around the problems of making liquor more accessible are “not assumptions”.

“Research clearly shows that increasing the availability of alcohol leads to increased consumption in society,” he said.

The vote was 4-2 to prohibit the sale of alcohol in liquors stores, with mayor Jon Lefebure and Maguire voting against the motion.