March 22, 2016 - 5:00 PM
PENTICTON - It was the public’s turn to get involved in the debate over wine in Penticton grocery stores, and get involved they did.
Council chambers was overflowing Monday night, March 21, as a public hearing took place prior to council passing first and second readings on a bylaw which will allow wine sales in the city’s grocery stores.
Opinions were as varied as the people presenting them, but one common theme throughout the hearing had people urging council to 'take a second look' or 'take a breath' before making a decision.
While much of the opposition continued to come from local small wineries and privately run liquor stores, at least one local winery spoke in favour of council’s decision earlier this month to allow wine sales in grocery stores.
Kaleden’s Top Shelf Winery owner Len Kwiatkowski said Save on Foods had done more for him as small winery than private liquor stores by offering to stock products when other liquor stores wouldn’t, claiming the wine would collect dust on the shelf because their customers didn’t know the label.
Gavin Miller, a winemaker for Upper Bench Winery, said Penticton had one of the best of the few remaining VQA stores and noted he fears eventual massive price wars among grocery chains.
“I don’t want my wine discounted in my town, it’s okay in Prince George where they can’t get it,” he said.
Fairview Cellars Winery owner Bill Eggert expressed fears of trade issues and impacts of international trade agreements stemming from the sale of B.C. wines in grocery stores, urging council to 'take their time and talk to people who know about these trade deals.'
In total, more than 30 people made their way to the microphone to make their feelings known during the public hearing, which was followed by council’s regular meeting where council debated the issue further before agreeing to amend the definition of a retail store and allow 100 per cent B.C. wine sales as a permitted use in a grocery store.
Coun. Andre Martin noted the issue or wine sales in grocery stores wasn’t on council’s agenda until it had been brought forward by members of local liquor retail stores, calling it 'ironic' they were now calling on council to hold off making a decision.
“I can’t see how one store could have that much impact. I’d like to see this brought forward,” he said.
Coun. Tarik Sayeed said the move was 'right for everyone else, but not for us,' calling on council to protect local business while Coun. Helena Konanz called the issue difficult and said she believes it will be good to for B.C. wine to be sold in grocery stores.
Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said a delay by council on a local bylaw wouldn’t stop Save on Foods from moving forward with their plans to introduce wine to their Penticton store, adding he didn’t buy the doom and gloom surrounding the move.
Council voted 4-3 in favour of the staff recommendation to move forward with second reading of the amendments with Jakubeit, Konanz, Martin and Coun. Max Picton in favour, and Sayeed, Coun. Campbell Watt and Coun. Judy Sentes opposed.
The vote was unchanged from the March 7 council meeting when the amendments came before the board for first reading.
That vote, however was a reversal from an original vote at the February 15 council meeting which saw council vote in favour of restricting wine sales in grocery stores.
LOCAL MLA AGREES WITH COUNCIL DECISION
Also prominent in the gallery Monday evening was Penticton member of legislative assembly Dan Ashton, who said he was in town for the Easter weekend. During an interview Tuesday morning Ashton said he had an interest because he’s represented the wine industry in Victoria since being elected to represent Penticton.
“I had an interest in the direction the city might be taking, that’s why I showed up,” he said, adding the varied and numerous opinions heard were good for the democratic process.
Ashton said city council was not subject to any provincial pressure when it came to making their decision Monday evening.
“Absolutely not. I’ve been keeping council informed of the direction the government’s going since I got elected," he said. "My heart is still in Penticton. Pressure? I absolutely disagree with that. We have such a gem here in our wines and to me, competition is your best customer. I hear and see the numbers that are being sold in the supermarkets and I think that’s very good for the wine industry, so I hope it’s going in the right direction, it seems to be,” he said.
Ashton said he feels it’s a fear of the unknown that bothers those opposed to grocery store sales.
“I don’t think an additional outlet for sales is bad. In my opinion, people are going to continue to come to Penticton, they’re going to continue to go to the wineries taste testing, but they’ll also have that vast opportunity of selection at Save on Foods,” he said. “I think it’s the right decision. The industry has come a long way. The province is incredibly proud of our wine industry and we’re getting world recognition for it."
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016