Coleman promises common sense for wine and fundraisers

Not-for-profits and the wine industry didn’t have long to wait for the province to step back from a decision that saw the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch cracking down on charities that use donated wine for their fundraisers.

Earlier this week a chill ran through non-profits around the province when Victoria’s Belfry Theatre cancelled its fine wine auction and gala dinner after the LCLB barred them from auctioning any privately donated wines at their fundraiser.

On Friday, Rich Coleman, the minister of energy, mines and natural gas, said the province was was taking another look at the situation and would take a common sense approach, allowing non-profit organizations to conduct fundraising using gift baskets or similar items that have liquor as one of its components. The law will be permanently clarified by legislative changes at a later date.

Auctioning off donated wines is nothing new; fundraising auctions of all levels rely on local wineries to donate product, which often fetches a substantial price for the group’s drive. Losing the ability to include such products would have been a major blow.

John Skinner, owner of Painted Rock Winery, said the decision to bar wine from fundraisers was about the letter of the law.

“They are nitpicking in a way that is against the common good and common sense,” said Skinner. “The charities have found a way so they don’t have to knock on government’s door, so they should be embracing it. They just don’t get it.”

“To me the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. They have people within the ministry in licensing that don’t get the bigger picture. It’s so counterproductive.”

Current B.C. laws require anyone who sells liquor to be licensed and for the liquor sold under that licence to be purchased from the Liquor Distribution Branch or another approved outlet, such as a B.C. winery.

Charities that wish to fundraise using only liquor, without other items as a primary component of a basket, will have to wait until new legislation is in place. For those organizations, a special occasion licence will continue to be required and the liquor will have to be purchased through the Liquor Distribution Branch.

“From time to time, we find outdated liquor policies that may have been relevant at a particular time in history but don't work today,” said Coleman. “Our goal is to get rid of these outdated liquor laws that unnecessarily restrict British Columbians and to regulate alcohol responsibly in the process."

The ability to donate wine to a fundraiser, said Skinner, benefits everyone. Painted Rock, he said, isn’t alone in donating wine to help what they consider worthy causes.

“We are solicited like crazy to participate in just about every charity. We have to pick them very closely, so we do things that are near and dear to our heart,” he said. “I think most of the other wineries are like mine. We are selling a product to this community and we all want to be attached to it faithfully. It’s all about giving back.”

Skinner likens the current situation to the period immediately after Bill C-311 was passed, lowering federal barriers on shipping wine between provinces.

“They came out with some atrocious policies, and then they realized that was a gaffe,” said Skinner, adding that Coleman quickly modified those policies as well.

“I have to give him full credit. He’s the guy who stepped up and showed leadership with Bill C-311 and he reversed that policy,” said Skinner. “They’d made a mistake and man, did he step in and do a good thing.”

In this case, Skinner said he has confidence the province is going to see the error of their ways. But Skinner is also a director of Modernize Wine, advocating that the ministry consult more with the wine industry. There are a lot of outdated policies, he said, and they want to help the government straighten them out in ways that make common sense.



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