‘Level playing field’ for B.C. liquor stores

BCGEU welcomes possible Sunday openings, more fridges in government stores to compete with private retailers

Attorney General Suzanne Anton says private stores have been calling for equal treatment from the province's wholesale liquor monopoly.

VICTORIA – B.C. government liquor stores are losing their wholesale price advantage next spring, but will also have the option of opening Sundays and evenings with chilled offerings to help them compete with private stores.

The change to a single wholesale price for every product takes effect April 1, the same date B.C. is permitting private or government liquor sales in separate facilities inside grocery stores.

Attorney General Suzanne Anton said the change is to create a “level playing field” for liquor retailing in B.C., after private store operators complained that the existing system gave government stores an unfair price advantage.

Currently the Liquor Distribution Branch, the government monopoly wholesaler, sells products to government stores at cost and sets a minimum price for all retailers. The wholesale price for private retail stores is 16 per cent less than that retail price, rural agency stores pay 12 per cent less, and stores that sell only B.C. wine get a 30 per cent discount.

A new wholesale price structure for the thousands of products sold in liquor stores will be the same for all retailers, set to retain the $1 billion in revenues the province takes in annually from liquor sales. Anton said she doesn’t expect substantial changes in retail prices.

The B.C. Government Employees Union, representing government liquor store staff, welcomed the Sunday openings and increased hours to help their stores compete.

“The move to a single wholesale price will only be in the public interest if it protects and expands over time provincial revenue,” said BCGEU president Stephanie Smith.

Premier Christy Clark said the government’s liquor policy review showed “people really like their government liquor stores” because of the wide selection and well-trained staff. Clark agreed with Smith that government stores are well positioned to compete with private outlets, which are generally not unionized and pay lower wages.

The government is also changing its tax system for breweries to eliminate the steep increase that applies when small breweries reach a certain level of production. Anton said that is designed to encourage growth of craft breweries, which currently employ 2,500 people in B.C.

Liquor Distribution Branch officials are also working on a system of higher prices for high-alcohol beverages, a measure long recommended by Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall to discourage overconsumption.