‘It strikes me as almost comical’; public policy professor criticizes Premier Wall’s stance on Alberta beer markup

Click to play video: 'Examining the Saskatchewan government’s response to the Alberta beer markup' Examining the Saskatchewan government’s response to the Alberta beer markup
Examining the Saskatchewan government’s response to the Alberta beer markup – Aug 2, 2016

Alberta’s new $1.25 per litre levy on beer will take effect on August 5.

Premier Brad Wall has been vocally opposed to the new legislation and said it violated the spirit of the New West Partnership Trade Agreement (NWPTA).

However, Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy professor Ken Rasmussen said Saskatchewan should change their tune in these discussions.

“Saskatchewan should have said thank you to Alberta for doing this for ten years. We gouge consumers here, while you were generous enough to provide tax breaks to these regional breweries,” he said.

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Regional breweries, like Saskatoon-based Great Western, used to pay $0.47 per litre to sell beer in Alberta. Meanwhile, Saskatchewan charges similar sized breweries a markup of $1.93 per litre.

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A spokesperson from the Saskatchewan government said they will be reviewing Alberta’s framework of the markup and associated grant program. The goal is to see whether or not it violates commitments outlined in trade agreements like the NWPTA and Agreement on Internal Trade.

“This trade deal is violated all the time by all the provinces,” Rasmussen said.

He added this case applies directly to liquor retailing.

“They’re all engaged in protectionist policies, all engaged in subsidies that harm local consumers, and provide benefits to certain select interests, so it’s a terrible system,” Rasmussen explained.

The Alberta Small Brewers Association (ASBA), which represents craft brewers in that province and more recognizable names like Big Rock, echoed this criticism.

“Some provinces have panels or a person who is deciding whether your beer gets to enter the province or not,” ASBA executive director Terry Rock said.

“Nova Scotia and Quebec offer markup reductions for local brewers… Saskatchewan itself has a system that prevents people in Saskatchewan from enjoying the best beer from across the country,” he said.

In addition to the markup change, Alberta’s new liquor legislation will make $20 million in grants available to Alberta brewers in an attempt to offset the markup.

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Talks between officials continue between the two provinces.

“We remain hopeful that those discussions will result in a positive outcome for Saskatchewan’s manufacturers, beer producers and stake holders as well,” Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority spokesman David Morris said.

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