B.C. extends pandemic patio program until next spring as summer season looms

The province has extended its pandemic patio program until next spring. The patios in the 1300-block of Gladstone Avenue in Victoria serve as a pilot program as the city explores permanently allowing street and sidewalk dining spaces. Photo courtesy Build Back Victoria

Victoria’s mayor credited the province for answering the call and extending the allowance of pandemic patios at restaurants, cafes and bars across B.C.

The province’s temporary expanded service areas (TESA) program was set to expire on June 1, but on Thursday, B.C. extended the program until March 31, 2023, for businesses with existing authorizations. Some people might have concerns about entering a crowded restaurant as the province drops its proof-of-vaccination system, but will still want to gather with friends and family, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said in an interview.

“For businesses, it’ll mean that they can focus on serving their customers rather than filling out paperwork,” Helps said.

The province said the extension will provide time for local authorities to update their patio policies and for licensees to apply to make areas permanent. Victoria council called for the move last month as it was concerned businesses wouldn’t be able to serve liquor on their temporary patios past the June end date.

“This extension will give everyone time to pursue permanent patios and the permanent expansion of licensed areas in an orderly way without feeling the crunch,” Helps said. “That’s what we were pushing for, just to give everyone a bit more time.”

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B.C.’s public safety minister echoed the capital city mayor’s comments, saying the extension eliminates the risk of disrupting patio service during the busy summer season – set to be the first in years without a host of health measures in place.

“Some local governments needed additional time to make the needed policy changes and assess applications for permanent structural changes in their communities,” said Mike Farnworth

Expanded service areas looking to stick around for good still need to meet local bylaws, so the province is encouraging businesses to submit applications as soon as possible.

Victoria businesses will have to work with city staff if they want to keep their pandemic-risen structures, the mayor said, noting how some will have to be reigned in as certain set-ups look more like outdoor restaurants than patios. She applauded the province’s local business support amid the now two-year-plus pandemic.

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“Everyone is going to ease out of the pandemic at their own pace and this gives more space for people to do so but not be cut out of a social setting,” Helps said.

Businesses wishing to make their current TESA permanent must apply through the Liquor and Cannabis Licensing Portal.

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