NASTY BREW – UPENDING OF BC LIQUOR LAWS WITH BILL TIELEMAN (REG WATCH)



hi I'm Brent Stafford and this is reg watch by regulator watch calm there are very few regulations that anger so many Canadians than those that deal with alcohol the politics around liquor regulation is at odds and nasty brew of taxation protectionism and good old-fashioned moralization joining us today to discuss the state of play in bc's liquor laws is Bill Tilghman communications and strategy consultant for his firm Weststar communications he is one of bc's top political calmness and a former communications director to the bc premier when the NDP held the reins of power in the 1990s bill thanks for joining us my pleasure so first off tell us what is the state of play why is bc liquor laws so maddening well first of all everything's moving the whole backfield is in motion so we've had a lot of liquor laws that were antiquated and I give the Liberals credit you see liberals credit for changing some of those other things however are going in the wrong direction and we're seeing a lot of higher prices we already have probably the highest prices or among the very highest prices in North America not just in Canada and then we've seen another of other changes that are just not clear like we watched as the price change literally before eyes in liquor store in April first because they went from a price that had tax has added and included in it to a price without taxes and you find out at this store clerk but how much the tax is they went to what's called a single wholesale price and that's hidden a lot of other things and it's create a lot of problems we haven't seen the end of you so it seems to me that regulation when it comes to alcohol here in British Columbia the government really has their hand in it in other areas of regulation they're not they're a little bit more back you know back seat a little more arm's length why they got so much interference well first of all we're going right back to the basically prohibition days of the United States that liquor is always seen as a sin as a syntax as a sin thing and so there's a lot of regulation around that part of it is still a hangover from those days pardon the pun this is a large market bc's liquor board is one of the largest wine beer and spirits buyers in the world now that's amazing I've heard that before give us some scope on that I mean why is it so big our do British Columbians just like to drink more well we have a mixed system so we have government and private stores that's happened over time in the last 25 30 years but the government buys and distributes all the wine all the beer all the spirits so they put a markup on everything and then there's taxes on top of that they make almost a billion dollars a year in pure revenue profit and that's all from liquor mart British Columbians going to benefit from having beer and wine available in grocery stores well as I recently wrote we're going to see actually probably less choices and higher prices as we see supermarkets taking over and if we look at every other market in the world Australia for example sixty-five to seventy percent of the wine market is controlled by two supermarkets so you can imagine we're going into oligopoly territory from a very diverse system and there's really no way the price is going to go down that's part one part to the bc government in their modernization as they call it laws has said we're only going to have bc wines in these supermarkets well already chill a California New Zealand have written letters the government saying uh-uh this isn't right we have trade deals and there's international trade of you can say well we just not gonna lao your product to be sold in in some locations but certainly the bc liberals would have known about this he must be picking a fight hey hey they they know that they're going to lose in my cynical view they know they're going to lose this one the BC wineries are starting to wake up particularly small ones because you know bread what will happen everybody probably knows we're going to go buy wine yellowtail the biggest wine probably in the world from Australia they're going to come in to your local supermarket say we'd like most of your shelf space and we're going to sell you this product way lower than anything else from VC we're going to put ads in the paper going to mention your supermarket or do all this promo Bob trip prizes everything but we don't want to see a lot of BC wines on the shelf and they're going to squeeze those guys out and that's what's happened everywhere around the world yeah Ontario they're just finalizing and moving forward on the beer going into their grocery stores hmm yeah I think I mean I think it's probably an inevitability in the long run and certainly there's no way bc is going to keep out other producers there's just no way that's going to happen so but I the concern that I have is I think people are giving being given a snow job if they think they're going to find it oh it's going to be like Safeway in the United States or something where you can go in and buy some cheap wine no it won't be cheaper it'll be more expensive there'll be less choices and you'll be sorry in the end of this process but no one's telling you that except me a lot and you've been pretty loud about it too which is good and people let me ask you that how has the response been from the people who've been reading your columns are they getting it that that they're getting damn boozled or yeah people know that they're being hosed on booze prices in every way whether it's in a bar where the happy hour price went up whether it's in the other when they hear what corner stores or you know that'll be convenient than they go wait a minute I'm going to pay more and you know the best I could actually show you how you're being bamboozled Britt is to grab this bottle of wine from over here this is what i wrote about recently behringer knights valley cabernet sauvignon i was down in san francisco i went to the corner store nondescript 17 dot 99 cents that's about 2406 Canadian this bottle of wine regular price in bc 4944 Wow over double the price bc government didn't grow the grapes they didn't fertilize them they didn't pick them they didn't invent them they didn't quark the bottles they didn't make the labels they didn't do anything except take it from California put it on the shelf and sell it that's double the price is it fair to say knowing you and knowing your writing is it fair to say that you're a little left to Center oh yeah so they are not the high prices then the price we have to pay as British Columbians for good health care and education and all the other things the government pays for on our behalf well taxes certainly have to cover that there's no question but we know that there's countries all around the world at Scandinavia and Western Europe who don't have anywhere near the prices we pay and they seem to have a good economy and better health care and education in many ways than we do so that's when we do it we're still it's going back to the basically the prohibition syntax sorta period we're saying oh you're an evil wine drinker you must pay for your sins by paying too much for your wine and I don't agree with that I think any reasonable tax system should be based on progressive income tax and not on consumer goods where if you're rich it doesn't matter what the sales taxes but if you're less than rich it makes a big difference the BCG you there the union that has obviously the workers that are in the stores do you get any pushback from them because obviously the a union prices i know that some cynical people inverters call me will say well yeah but that's because you know so much money is going to pay to those union workers that we're forced to have it the government stores is there some truth to that and and is there ever some pushback well certainly in fact the interesting thing bread is that some of the government employees union reps have said oh you know you're scaring people when you say bill teal in you that the government flickr sir is going to close but i believe that that's a real serious threat and i think they're concerned about that but realistically yes they get paid a premium they get paid more than a lower end cold beer and wine store employee they have a pension those sort of things does that make a double difference in prices on something like this or a significant difference like that no it doesn't when the BCG you contract expires in a year or so I think the government employees are going to have a real tough time because they're going to start looking around and the government's going to say look you know we don't need you as much as you think you do and we're going to start moving you know they've already moved so that there's actually more private stores in public but the public stores do more business so we're going to see what happens there but i think the BCG EU has to be quite concerned about what's going to happen down the road and i know that its employees i talked to a lot of them i'm a wine guy i'm a wine collector i go and shop in all sorts of stores private and public talk to people and the government employees are very nervous seems to me this is actually probably going to put the government in a good negotiating position isn't it absolutely yeah no I mean the supermarket piece and of course the BCG you doesn't represent anyone in supermarkets now the BCG you and the private liquor store Association got together a couple of weeks ago and jointly announced if marijuana when when red marijuana gets sold recreationally here in Canada that in bc they wanted to be the ones to handle it what did you think of that and and why is that happening well firstly it was shocking because the government liquor store folks and the government union and private stores have always been at loggerheads and they have different interests so I think that really indicates to us that they are in serious trouble on both sides and they both sides know it so I think that was the first observation i made secondly I it makes a lot of sense i mean i don't think it's a bad idea at all to say okay we've got people who are already regulated they have to be trained and they have to have certain standards for selling liquor or whether its private or public why not just add that to the marijuana to that and say okay now we've got the system that works here but you know it's obviously self-serving but it also actually could serve a good purpose what is the future look like I think the future looks like higher prices fewer choices if as we've seen everywhere else in the world sixty-five to seventy percent of market is going to get controlled by a few supermarkets the government liquor store stuff all of that is gone they're going to be decimated the private stores will be decimated I will see basically very few private or government liquor stores at all I'm willing to all supermarkets

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