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

Saanich councillor fears weed could crowd out food as greenhouses convert

Head of provincial association representing greenhouse vegetable farmers not worried about issue

Taking risks: Victoria theatre expert and author gains traction for his new model of tragedy

Edwin Wong releases Risk Theatre book, hosts successful global playwriting competition

Experience automotive classics and more at the Vancouver Island Concours d’Elegance

Motorcar Weekend features Show and Shine, high-end Concours division, all for a great cause

Langford veteran rehab program takes multi-tiered approach to treating pain

Clinic ‘bio-psycho-social approach to healing’ from Victoria to the West Shore earlier this year

Sunny skies ahead for Tuesday

Plus a look ahead at your week

Disney Plus to launch in Canada in November

Analysts say latest streaming service may escalate cord cutting

B.C. manhunt suspects left cellphone video before they died: family

Family member says Kam McLeod, Bryer Schmegelsky recorded final wishes

Okanagan bus driver assaulted for asking patron not to smoke

59-year-old in hospital with non-life threatening injuries

B.C. sets rules for ride hailing, same minimum fee as taxis

Larger operating areas seen as threat by cab companies

Two hiking families team up to extinguish fire in B.C. backcountry

Children and their parents worked for three hours to ensure safety of the popular hiking region

Police seek tips in 2015 death of Island teen Brown

Four years has passed since the body of Penelakut Island woman was discovered

Vancouver man arrested after pregnant woman’s SUV stolen, then crashed

Police are recommending charges against a 22-year-old Vancouver man

Elections Canada to assess ‘partisan’ climate change rhetoric case by case

People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier has said climate change is not an emergency nor caused by human

Most Read