Pictured above: Martin Williams, Paddy Treavor and Glen Stusek
The Golden Age of Beer in British Columbia is alive and well. The craft beer industry in BC has exploded beyond the expectations of even the most optimistic beer lover. The industry and all things related to craft beer are firing on all cylinders.
But there is a critical player on the craft beer scene that, in my opinion, has been struggling and is perilously close to collapse. 2017 could be a make-or-break year for the Campaign for Real Ale Society of British Columbia (CAMRA BC).
CAMRA BC was founded in 1985 and re-established under its current registration in 1990 as a consumer advocacy group. It has five active branches and almost 1,300 members . Most branches are active organizing festivals and holding member events. Some are even offering some great craft beer education. But the society has been quiet on the advocacy front for several years.
CAMRA BC was instrumental in getting the tied-house laws changed to benefit craft breweries and consumers. The Vancouver branch fought to get on-site tasting lounges opened in Vancouver. CAMRA BC presented ten recommendations about liquor policy during the stakeholders’ consultation. The BC government adopted nine of them.
The most significant recent campaign CAMRA BC engaged in was probably the effective but polarizing “Fess Up to Serving Sizes (FUSS),” aimed at getting licensees to disclose the sizes of their draft beer pours and deliver on those advertised sizes. FUSS fizzled out in 2013 because of friction between CAMRA and the hospitality industry, who did not appreciate having their serving practices called out. While it put us in the bad books with some licensees, it put us in the good books with consumers tired of getting short-poured. FUSS also brought CAMRA media coverage.
But now the mainstream media no longer asks branch and provincial presidents for their thoughts on liquor policy. CAMRA BC is no longer invited to contribute to proposed liquor policy changes. Nor is the BC government concerned about any noise CAMRA may make about policies that hurt the craft beer consumer.
CAMRA BC has lost its fight, its focus, and much of the momentum built up in past years. Without the focus on consumer advocacy, CAMRA BC has become a social group whose members join mostly to socialize at events and get discounts at craft beer events and certain licensees. Members interested in the advocacy side are far outnumbered by those who are just here for the beer.
Consumer advocacy groups will sometimes clash with those providing a product, because what is good for the consumer is not always good for the bottom line of the craft beer and hospitality industries. But some members don’t want CAMRA BC calling out the craft beer and hospitality industries. They don’t want to annoy or upset the craft beer establishments, and threaten not to renew if CAMRA BC takes that route.
Member apathy, and lack of connection to the Provincial level Society, is an issue. CAMRA BC’s Annual General Meeting and executive elections were scheduled in the Lower Mainland in hopes that they would be well attended. The AGM was held Sunday, February 19th at Yellow Dog Brewing, close to a SkyTrain station. Only 25 of the approximately 1000 members who live in the area came.
Before that, on February 10th, just hours before advance nominations for executive positions were set to close, there were no nominees submitted from well over 1300 BC members. Having no provincial executive could have resulted in a 32-year-old society being deregistered and dismantled. At the last minute, a few of us stepped up and threw our hats into the ring, and were subsequently elected as officers by acclimation at the AGM: former Vancouver branch President Martin Williams (as Vice President), Victoria branch Past President Glen Stusek (as Secretary), CAMRA Victoria newcomer Dave Garton (as Treasurer) and me, now President.
As Society President, along with a strong and experienced executive, I hope to guide CAMRA BC back to being an effective voice for craft beer consumers in BC. The 2017 executive will champion their cause, even if it means ruffling a few feathers. I hope that existing members will join us in our pursuit of this purpose. I hope that lapsed members will rejoin, and that new people will discover us for the first time. By the end of the year, we hope to have more members interested in supporting CAMRA’s true mandate: consumer advocacy.