Image: Paddy Trevor speaking to those gathered at CAMRA BC’s 2017 AGM, held at Yellow Dog Brewing
When I took over the Campaign for Real Ale Society of BC (CAMRA BC) president’s seat the last year, I made some bold comments.
I was quite critical of the fact that CAMRA BC had been stagnant for years and had all but abandoned their mandate of advocating on behalf of the craft beer and cider consumers of BC. In fact, I voiced that I thought CAMRA BC had become irrelevant and all but forgotten by those who are in control of creating and enforcing BC liquor policy.
My hope was to bring CAMRA BC back into the political realm and my main goal was to re-establish the society as a prominent consumer advocacy group and make our voices heard by the politicians and policy makers of BC.
I am sure many members feel that I, as the leader of CAMRA BC, have failed miserably as there has been no public campaigning by CAMRA BC and the executive have kept a low public profile.
But what most do not know is that, despite the fact it appears that another year has gone by with CAMRA BC doing absolutely nothing, we have been quite busy and involved in meetings and consultations at the highest level in our province, even surpassing the levels of involvement and engagement of 2013 when CAMRA BC sent a delegation, of which I was a part of, to present to then Parliamentary Secretary, John Yap, during the BC Liberal Government’s BC liquor policy review.
The current NDP/Green Provincial are currently holding a second liquor policy review, but unlike the Liberal’s 2013 review, which was very public and more about the show than the actual consultation, as many decisions had been made before the process began, this government is very quietly meeting with BC liquor industry stakeholders and look to be quite serious about making a few more meaningful changes based on priorities set by those stakeholders being consulted.
In January, CAMRA BC Secretary, Glen Stusek and myself met, face-to-face, with Attorney General David Eby and the general manager of the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB), Michelle Carr, at the AG’s office in Victoria.
I have been at this for years and this is the first time I have managed a face-to-face meeting with a politician of the status of the Attorney General. In the past, I have managed to get responses from the Liberal ministers in charge of the liquor portfolio, but often the responses, by e-mail, were weeks and months after I wrote them and almost always the responses were condescending, dismissive and at times not even related to what I wrote them about. This time around, I had a response and an invite to speak with the Attorney General within two days of writing him.
It is also the first time I have been able to have a meaningful and direct interaction with the head of the LCLB. My experience has been that bureaucrats at that level hide behind their staff and rarely, if ever, respond directly to issues brought forward by groups like CAMRA BC.
It was an interesting meeting and topics were brought forward by Glen and I, including elements related to the Fess Up to Serving Sizes (FUSS) Campaign and ways to give consumers greater access to BC craft beer and cider products. From the government’s side, they hinted at changes they were considering, based on proposals from other special interest and lobby groups, and queried us as to whether we thought they were good changes.
Although nothing concrete came of the meeting, as far as a commitment by the government to look at CAMRA’s proposals, the meeting did prove fruitful as Attorney General Eby stated he wanted to keep the dialogue with CAMRA BC open, as he sees the value in getting the input from the consumer perspective and did recognize that the consumers are often ignored in this type of policy review. As well, he directed me to link up directly with his newly appointment BC liquor policy advisor, Mark Hicken who has been tasked with leading the current policy review.
Over the past few weeks I have spoken at length with Mr. Hicken twice, once by phone, the other in a face-to-face meeting in Vancouver. Mr. Hicken, known for his advocacy work on behalf of BC wine consumers and as being the writer of the Wine Law blog, is familiar with CAMRA BC and I had met with him in 2013 to talk about common issues that BC wine and craft beer consumers faced at the time.
These meetings with Mr Hicken were refreshingly candid. I feel very strongly that CAMRA BC’s message was heard and taken seriously. Again, no commitments to action were made related to issues I raised with Mr. Hicken, but I feel that some common ground was found between CAMRA BC wants, the opinions of other liquor industry stakeholders and the government.
If I understood correctly, the next steps of the review process will be for Mr Hicken to take his priority list back to the government who will then appoint a panel, made up of stakeholders, and they will look at formulating policy based on what the government wants addressed. I lobbied hard that there should be a consumer voice on that panel, and the message was received. I think it doubtful CAMRA BC will be invited to be a part of that panel, but I feel there is a slim chance.
It took this version of CAMRA BC a while to get moving but I feel the society is back in the mix and ready to take the next steps. The provincial election took place shortly after my mandate as president began, and if you remember, it took weeks for the collation, that now rules, to get established and a government formed. I purposely waited for the right moment to reach out, as it seemed we wanted the AG and his government to get established and it seemed inappropriate to begin advocating while the province was on fire and the government were dealing with pipeline and dam project controversies and issues such as the ICBC “dumpster fire”.
As it turned out, our timing was great, mostly by chance, and we made contact right in the middle of this review and were able to get involved in a meaningful way.
While waiting for the right moment to begin advocating, we were busy fixing administrative issues behind the scenes. It is not the sexy part of being involved with CAMRA but the problems we discovered threatened the existence of the society. Those problems have been mostly cleaned up and we are leaving the society in better shape than we found it for the next CAMRA BC Executive.