REGINA – Even though the government has made 77 changes to its liquor laws in the past few years, a new report card barely gives Saskatchewan a passing grade on its liquor policies for restaurants and bars.
A Restaurants Canada report card gives Saskatchewan’s liquor policies a D+. One problem highlighted is that bars and restaurants can’t buy alcohol at wholesale prices, a cost that is then passed on to consumers.
“They will know immediately that the alcohol we sell is more expensive. Then they can go and purchase it at other locations, like a Sobey’s, like a Co-op, like a Willow Park and they ask questions. They want to know why that is,” said Greg Hanwell, a partner at Regina’s Beer Bros. Gastropub.
The answer to that question is complicated. Take for instance the 185 rural SLGA franchises (vendors who sell liquor, but not in a liquor store). They make a 15.3 percent “commission” on wine and spirits and 8.2 percent on beer. However, new private retail stores receive a 16 percent wholesale discount on all alcohol.
There are also around 450 off-sale outlets which get anywhere between a 10.25 percent to 13.52 percent discount on beer. Beer bros. also has an off-sale, but receives no discount.
“There are too many differences. It’s complicated and it just needs to be simplified where if you’re in the business of selling alcohol, you’re in the business of selling alcohol and these are the rules – for everybody,” said Hanwell.
The government is reluctant to change the rules, fearing a loss of revenue.
“If we were to give restaurants a huge break, where would we make it up on the alcohol piece? We’d have to charge more somewhere else,” said the minister responsible for SLGA, Don McMorris.
Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU) is concerned generally about lost revenue from new liquor polices, particularly from new private liquor stores.
“If the government is going to change their policies around the wholesale of alcohol, then there should be a full independent economic study of what they’re doing first,” said Bob Bymoen, SGEU president.