Naughty or nice?

What has been described as a $20 million Christmas present for the province's private liquor stores was discussed in the government's backrooms as early as late September, Public Eye has learned. Before the holidays, the Campbell administration quietly made it cheaper for those stores to purchase booze from the government - increasing their discount rate from 13 to 16 percent. And the public would have been none the wiser were it not for The Times Colonist's Paul Willcocks, who broke the news in January. Now, documents obtained via a freedom of information request show a briefing note "re: increasing LRS (liquor retail store) discount to 16%" was distributed to senior civil servants on September 26, 2006.

In an interview, provincial New Democrat critic Mike Farnworth said he wishes the government had instead "been talking to the public" about the price break. "But it's pretty clear they've got the ear of the big box stores and not everyone else."

Government was unable to respond by deadline. But, in an earlier statement, Solicitor General John Les said, "rather than being a ‘gift' to the liquor industry, the increased discount to private liquor stores instead serves to further level the playing field and that's good news for consumers."

16 Comments

I've tried to say this before, but the real issue here isn't 2% or 3% or whatever. It's the overall level of take that Canadian Govt's get from liquor. Is it justified on the basis of rational, equitable tax policy?

Why does a case of Corona Beer cost $12 in a Washington State gas station, and $21 in a BC Liquor store? Why do we have to put up with the indignity of joining American friends for a holiday here in Canada, only to hear them explain to us that the same French wine we bought they also got for far less than half of what we paid in a Costco store on their way up? How long do Canadians have to be compleat suckers?

And here's another question, or pair of questions if you like. How much money does the BC Govt derive from the sale of alcohol, and how much money does it spend on alcohol and drug treatment programs? For those who think the answer merely requires a bit of homework, they're wrong. The budgets for alcohol and drug treatment in BC have been dispersed to the Health Authorities, and in their budget statements the information is buried in other accounts as a general rule.

Its amazing how the private liquor stores have prospered under the Liberals. The "even playing field" justification is not even good spin and more or less a joke. In fact, this government has simply handed market share in a lucrative industry over to private operators for free and now increases the public subsidy.

Community public liquor stores were simply abandoned to the private sector along with their market share. Even the necessary fixtures such as shelves, furniture and safes were often transfered. One test case was taken to the Labour Relations Board under its successorship provisions. The case was lost. No one yet knows why because even now, two years after the action was launched, the Board has not published its reasoning.

At the time this issue was investigated by a truly dogged journalist, the Liberals claimed the additional percentage was intended to address two issues. The first was the low wages of employees (and I suppose a perceived problem with worker retention). The second was to allow for lower prices. There is no evidence this financial "encouragement" worked in either way.

As always, follow the money. What we need is a journalist who wil expose the extent of the inter-relationship between the private liquour store industry and the Liberal Party.

We have three liquor outlets within less than a mile of our place , and we arn't exactly "down town" Two are private, one is across the intersection from the provincial shop. The provincial shop builing looks pretty ratty and the staff expects to get shut down soon. But the interesting thing is the ratty old provincial outlet has some really good wines from many countries. Their selection sure beats the private places. When we buy wine, the government store suits us just fine.

When we buy wine, the government store suits us just fine.

I find this kind of rigid ideological material hard to accept. I buy beer, wine, and spirits at the BC Liquor stores because the price is lower! What's your motive?

Are you satisfied that the prices we are paying in BC are justified compared to those prevailing in Washington State? Do you think beer and wine could be sold in supermarkets and gas stations here as in Washington? Before you answer, remember that some "agency" stores in BC, including at least one that is located just off a four lane section of the Inland Island Hwy #19, are located in gas stations.

Actually, I wish Sean would check his facts. It wasn't Paul Willcocks who broke the story - although he did report on it. It was the BCGEU who issued a press release (http://www.bcgeu.ca/Campbell_governments_subsidies_for_private_liquor_stores) that provided the information on the discount.

Actually, the BCGEU web site has an entire page on liquor store privatization (http://www.bcgeu.ca/Privatization/Liquor_stores) that puts the lie to the notion that the private sector is cheaper and more efficient.

There is a link to a couple Consumers Association of Canada studies which show that private liquor stores in BC are charging up to 30% more than public stores for the same product, while providing a more limited selection.

BTW, just the facts, since I cannot get an answer from anyone else, I will ask you. Do you think the present pricing of liquor in BC and Canada, relative to Washington State, is appropriate? What public policy purpose is being served?

And what is the BCGEU's position on the issue of price levels? No, not the differential between the Government and private stores, that question is trivial and irrelevant. I mean the real and significant difference in the prices as between our Government stores and the prevailing price levels in Washington State.

Budd, I'm a newby in following this website, but I have noticed and read your comments both here and elsewhere. This last thought I'm having some problems with I fear. The Liberals giveaway of market share and then additional subsidy of the private liquor industry has very little to do with the tax differences (and price differences) between here and a US State. The real question is why have the Liberals chosen to provide private liquour stores with an open market and now additional subsidies in the first place.

I would say this. Liquor is a big source of provincial revenue and far too little of this money goes back into addressing the problems it creates. Loosening regulation by increasing access through private distribution benefits only the private investors when the cost of consumption has never been adequately addressed.

Sorry Just the Facts, but you're wrong and Sean is accurate.
The column was up on my website and out to the papers which used it a day before the BCGEU release.
I expect we were both alerted to the change at the same time, by a press release from one of the liquor retailing companies celebrating the good news for their investors.
Not that it's a race.

Budd,
Your normally clear progressive vision may be a bit blurred by Corona ... do the math ... can we have U.S. level income taxes, no estate taxes of any type, home mortgage interest deductibility, U.S. level excise taxes on gasoline and booze, U.S. level sales and payroll taxes ... and .... single-payer medicare? quality public schools? our current (with all its faults) social safety net? I'd rather drink Lucky beer and Five Star rye than put my kids health in the hands of an HMO ...

"I find this kind of rigid ideological material hard to accept. I buy beer, wine, and spirits at the BC Liquor stores because the price is lower! What's your motive?" My motive is that although the government controlls the prices at both places, we prefer to buy from union shops which doesn't use some teenager at minimum wages to flog the stuff. The private guys are making a killing. A young woman we know used to be in her place of work late evenings and was scared silly about the guys showing up half tanked to buy some more booze for the evening. The guy who owned the place could care less about her safety working alone. So maybe that's another part of the reason we buy at the government store. The prices set are high as the government grabs for every dollar it can get . Go vote the rascals out if you figure you can get a better price from a different party in power. And I do agree with heaney about which system is better , ours or the US of A.

Heaney the Germans sell beer in 20 half litre bottles in crates where the deposit for bottles and box is more than the cost of the beer. And they have a medicare system that puts ours to shame. If they can do it why not here? Why compare us to Washington State? Hey it's cheaper in Oregon and if you go to Phoenix it is even cheaper still.
Again the present bunch in Victoria motto is "stick it to the poor and middle class for the benefit of the rich."

I trust Gary Collins to run the liquor industry as smoothly and as competently as he ran the province's finances. He is the best $7,500 in quarterly payment investment LIQ.UN could possibly make.

http://www.canadianinsider.com/coReport/allTransactions.php?ticker=LIQ

Sopme thoughts on levelling the playing field: Private stores are allowed to chill their product. Almost all gov't stores are not(there are a handful who got coolers before gov't killed that idea). The private stores have great latitude in choosing the hours when their stores are open. Gov't stores are very restricted. Private stores have access to all kinds of products which gov't stores are not allowed to carry. Private stores are allowed to advertise! Gov't stores are not. Private stores are allowed, nay- encouraged, to use the same warehouse distribution as the gov't stores. Private stores have a huge lobby whose function is to whine to gov't about about gov't stores. Private stores are allowed to copy the logo of the gov't stores, and gov't refuses to put a stop to this. Private stores can charge whatever the traffic will bear- gov't stores don't. (Thank God) Private stores pay their employees poor wages and pocket the profits. Gov't stores pay decent wages and return profit to gov't for the benefit of all BC'ers.

Sopme thoughts on levelling the playing field: Private stores are allowed to chill their product. Almost all gov't stores are not(there are a handful who got coolers before gov't killed that idea). The private stores have great latitude in choosing the hours when their stores are open. Gov't stores are very restricted. ... Private stores pay their employees poor wages and pocket the profits. Gov't stores pay decent wages and return profit to gov't for the benefit of all BC'ers.

Without disagreeing with any of your particular points, relayer, let me just ask you if you think most consumers really care one way or the other? I don't get this kind of feedback from real people in society. Their feedback has to do with the overall level of liquor prices in Canada as compared to the US. I think they are fully justified in complaining that they are being hosed big-time. Unless and until you address that fundamental complaint all the little side issues about who's got coolers and who hasn't pales into insignificance.

The BCGEU needs to understand that the only viable long term strategy for them involves marrying the interests of their members with that of the general public.

The minimum-wagers who toil in the private booze stores need to understand that the only viable long term strategy for them involves marrying their interests with that of their owners.

Can you imagine the gaul of these people expecting to earn a living wage in BC while seniors have to pay the same for a bottle of plonk as others.

Of course it's a left-wing, union conspiracy initially meant to attack the Campbell government, but now concentrated on keeping another Campbell at his whining best.

bleedingheart, I don't meant to be unduly rude, but you're a typical BC provincial BSer. You just can't stop preaching that old time religion, of whichever particular brand, and you cannot see the forest for the trees.

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