Liquor changes could push up prices

Good news: private and public B.C. stores get the same liquor tax mark-up starting April 1. Bad news: it's as much as 124%

Private liquor stores

VICTORIA – When the B.C. government announced its latest changes to liquor distribution, the reaction was not what I expected.

Private store representatives complained bitterly that the government is allowing further expansion of fridges and “cold rooms” in selected government liquor stores, and longer operating hours that include more Sunday openings. Those hours, along with non-union staff, are the private stores’ big advantages as things stand in B.C.’s hybrid liquor retailing system.

The B.C. Government Employees’ Union didn’t seem at all perturbed that state-run stores’ key advantage was also going to be gone effective April 1. That would be preferential wholesale pricing, in which the government’s monopoly wholesaler sells to them at cost and to private stores at higher rates.

How much higher? Liquor Distribution Branch officials were carefully vague on that, and it varies depending on which of the 22 wholesale categories you look at. They released a graph that suggests the average wholesale cost to government stores might be going up 10 to 15 per cent to create a “level playing field” with private stores.

That wholesale price difference is the main reason private stores have generally higher retail prices. And the majority of the province’s revenue of nearly $1 billion a year comes from this monopoly wholesale business, where the hidden tax is coyly termed a “mark-up.”

When the new, simplified system comes in next spring, a bottle of hard liquor will have a “mark-up” of 124 per cent. That’s right, LDB more than doubles the price with its wholesale liquor tax. And if it’s premium booze, anything valued at more than $21 a litre will get an extra luxury tax on top of that.

Coolers and ciders will see a 73 per cent mark-up. Wines are taxed at 89 per cent, with extra luxury tax on premium wines. Beer gets a per-litre tax with ascending rates for small, medium and large breweries. Then of course there is federal and provincial sales tax applied to all of it. Cheers!

Premier Christy Clark acknowledged that the first guiding principle of this overhaul is to keep that government revenue coming.

The new BCGEU president, Stephanie Smith, doesn’t sound like your bullhorn-toting socialist of yore. She insists she’s gung-ho to compete head to head with those private interlopers and get back some lost market share, particularly on the high-volume cold beer sales.

The union has another ace in the hole. Its current contract stipulates that LDB can’t close stores. In some small towns there are government stores that lose money, particularly since they’ve had more private competition. But at least for the duration of this BCGEU contract, the government retail arm will continue to operate in some places as a perverse social program, subsidizing retail clerk jobs that pay nearly twice what private retail pays.

And let’s face it, running a till at a liquor store is not rocket surgery. Private and government store staff have to take the same training, and liquor inspector sting operations have increased vigilance on ID checks in all stores.

With higher wholesale prices applied to government stores, this kind of artificial support will cost more. The only way LDB could maintain it without subsidizing it from the wholesale windfall would be to raise retail prices.

The LDB says this new simplified system is “not intended to impact consumer pricing.” Note the careful choice of words.

Oh, one last thing. There is another new tax in the works. It will be applied to higher-alcohol beverages, in an effort to reduce adverse health effects.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press.

Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Nearly $500,000 available for internships with First Nations government

Funds announced through partnership with Northern Development and Government of Canada

Kitimat registers biggest drop in property assessments

The residential property in the north with the highest value was $2.892 million

Former mayor Ray Brady passes away

“What I can say is that he was passionate about his beliefs and he would fight for them.”

CDC’s housing section looking for new home

CDC executive director says it has until Jan. 31 to move out.

Shames Mountain named one of the world’s Top 10 ski resorts

The UK magazine listed Shames alongside Whistler and hills in Italy, Japan and Austria

Solitary-confinement veto a chance to address mental health: advocate

B.C. Supreme Court made the landmark ruling Wednesday

Winter storm coming to B.C. this weekend

The bets are on as to how much snow the province will actually get in the coming days

B.C. civil rights group files complaint about RCMP arrest of man who later died

Dale Culver, a 35-year-old Indigenous man was arrested in Prince George last July

Lawyer says former B.C. government aide ‘barely guilty’ in ethnic vote scandal

Brian Bonney pleaded guilty to a breach of trust charge

Quite a few tears as homemade quilts distributed to residents of Ashcroft Reserve, Boston Flats affected by last summer’s fire

Quilters in B.C. and Alberta worked through the summer and fall to create more than 100 quilts.

Island Health: No need for alarm in wake of Victoria needle-prick incidents

Three incidents in a week prompts meeting between health authority, city service providers

B.C. coast loggers celebrate history, hope for improvement

Truck Loggers Association awaits B.C. NDP government’s new direction

Global Affairs aware of report of two Canadians kidnapped in Nigeria

The foreigners were heading south from Kafanchan to Abuja when they were ambushed around Kagarko

Whistler role in potential Calgary Olympic bid would be welcome: IOC

Calgary is mulling whether to vie for the 2026 Games, and could look to facilities in B.C.

Most Read