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Notley pledges support for Alberta beer as potential $100M lawsuit looms

Click to play video 'Alberta beer importer takes on province for beer tax' Alberta beer importer takes on province for beer tax
A Calgary beer importer is taking on the province, claiming a new beer tax is tanking their business.

Premier Rachel Notley, reacting to a proposed $100-million class action lawsuit over Alberta’s beer subsidies, says her government will continue to find ways to support its homegrown industry.

Notley declined to speak to the lawsuit directly on Friday, given it is before the courts.

But she said Alberta is finished supporting liquor industries in other provinces at the expense of its own brewers.

“We have the most profitable market for other provinces to sell their product into, yet you can’t find Alberta product in almost any other province,” Notley said.

“We have spent a long time here in Alberta supporting the liquor industries of other provinces, and it’s about time that we stand up for Alberta producers and the workers who are working in this province.”

READ MORE: Change in Alberta beer markup ‘bad news’ for Saskatchewan brewers

A lawsuit filed in Court of Queen’s Bench in Calgary against the province seeks $100 million on behalf of out-of-province beer producers and others in the industry.

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It seeks reparations for losses incurred due to a provincial beer subsidy program, designed to assist Alberta’s craft brewers.

The allegations have not been proven in court, and the class-action status has yet to be certified.

Under the program, brewers in Alberta pay the same $1.25 tax per litre on beer, but Finance Minister Joe Ceci introduced grants in 2016 to help small Alberta producers expand their businesses.

READ MORE: Trade panel ruling slams Alberta’s craft beer subsidy program

In June, Ceci announced the province was revamping the subsidy plan after a trade panel ruled it contravenes the Agreement on Internal Trade.

Also in June, a Court of Queen’s Bench judge determined the subsidy program was unconstitutional and ordered Alberta to pay $2 million to two out-of-province brewers. Alberta is appealing that decision.

The program was launched by Ceci in 2016 in a bid, he said, to level the playing field for small Alberta brewers who face barriers such as lengthy and costly applications and restrictions on shelf space.

READ MORE: Alberta loses beer battle with Steam Whistle, Great Western breweries

Alberta has to change its subsidy rules by the end of the year. Notley said work is ongoing.

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“What we are going to continue to do is find ways within the law to support our small brewers,” she said.