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

Rockslide damages vehicles on Highway 3 west of Hedley

A significant rockslide has occurred just west of Hedley on Highway 3.

Canada Post employee stops scam

A resident was saved by a sharp Canada Post employee in the Lower Similkameen.

Region hires two new fire chiefs

New fire chiefs come with experience and ties to community.

Cawston Players take on Wizard of Oz

The Cawston Players Christmas Show is in rehearsal and appears onstage December 8, 9 and 10.

Fill a Stocking campaign underway for Toys for Tots to Teens

Stockings are being distrubuted to Penticton businesses

One person sent to hospital after fire near Keremeos

Fire ripped through a shed and Winnebego at Sunkatchers RV Park Co-operative

Black Friday fervour wanes as some consumers, retailers shun practice

Some businesses are choosing to opt out, while some shoppers are turning to buying online

Stay safe on B.C. roads this holiday season

RCMP warn drivers to plan a safe ride home or suffer the consequences this holiday season

Trudeau apologizes to excluded residential school students

PM makes statement to former students in Nfld who were left out of previous compensation, apology

Four years for discharging shotgun in home, school break-in

Yvon Martel also threatened his wife and broke into an elementary school

Traci Genereaux: Gone, but not forgotten

COLUMN: Family, friends want justice for Vernon teen

An adopted cat is the best 10 pounds you’ll gain this season

BC SPCA encouraging families to add a forever feline friend during adoption event Nov. 24 to Dec. 3

Uber official says public needs to push for ridesharing in B.C.

Mike van Hemmen tells Kelowna Chamber of commerce ridesharing would be ‘win-win-win’

Most Read