Alcohol bylaw warrants sober second thought

Dear Editor:

Another private liquor store is about the last thing Agassiz-Harrison needs, but unless the community speaks up – and soon – that’s what we’ll get.

Last week Kent Council passed third reading of a bylaw to allow a liquor store next to the current Esso station at the crossroads of Highways 7 and 9. Far from a mere formality, the proposal is fraught with problems. Residents need to act quickly, before the final vote is taken, to encourage council to just say ‘no’.

Why? Because our community doesn’t need a new private liquor store and the benefits it would bring would be vastly outweighed by the harm it would cause.

It’s true that if the proposal went ahead, the district would receive increased tax revenues and much-needed jobs. But this would come largely at the expense of existing alcohol outlets in the heart of both Agassiz and Harrison Hot Springs – businesses that are already experiencing reduced sales.  Other businesses could also suffer as more shoppers bypassed the downtown core.

It’s also true that another private liquor store would make alcohol cheaper and more convenient to buy.  But cheaper, more accessible alcohol is a well-recognized hazard when the beneficiary is the driver of an oncoming car. 

Many of us derive pleasure from drinking alcohol. But alcohol is no ordinary commodity and should never be sold like one. Alcohol is a drug that is linked to more than 60 different medical conditions and imposes a heavy burden on public health.  In B.C., more private liquor outlets have been shown to increase alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm. A research paper published last month concluded that “the rapidly rising densities of private liquor stores in B.C. from 2003 to 2008 was associated with a significant local area increase in rates of alcohol-related death.” The researchers estimate that the expansion caused an additional 350 alcohol-related deaths. 

Here in Agassiz-Harrison, we shouldn’t make decisions that would make local alcohol-related problems worse.

We tell our young people not to drink and drive. So we shouldn’t change our bylaws to allow private liquor sales at a gas station, especially when we know that private outlets have a well-recognized vested interest in selling more alcohol, including to youth and the already-intoxicated.

We complain about the costs of policing, crime and health care.  We shouldn’t then encourage the establishment of a business at a site that will require additional provincial inspections, will increase policing costs, and will increase costly social and health problems.

Fortunately, we still have a choice in Agassiz-Harrison.  Even though the public hearing is over and the proposed bylaw has passed third reading, it has not been formally adopted. Residents and councilors can be excused for initially thinking the vote was a simple zoning change to rubber-stamp a provincial decision. But we now know that without council support, the proposal could not go ahead.  As a community, we need to inform council how important it is to take a sober second look at this proposal, and to reject it.  We owe it to each other, and especially to our youth, to act quickly.

Jim Grieshaber-Otto