Straight Talk
BRIAN LILLEY - Raise a glass to lower tax

Credits: QMI AGENCY

BRIAN LILLEY | QMI AGENCY

I have beer on the mind right now. Maybe it's because I'm spending all next week at a cabin on a lake and, I'll be honest, beer will be involved.

Quaffing a cold one is as Canadian as ketchup chips and maple syrup, but like many Canadians, I just hate the price. In most parts of the country we simply pay way too much for beer, and the blame isn't with the brewers but with government.

According to the Brewers Association of Canada, governments take an average of 50% of the price we pay for our suds. It ranges from about 60% of the price of a case of beer going to government in Prince Edward Island to 40% in Ontario and 35% in Alberta, which has the lowest take.

A new study out of Ontario claims drinkers in that province could see cheaper prices if the monopoly beer store, owned by three now-foreign-owned brewing companies, was broken up. The study was paid for by the Ontario Convenience Stores Association which represents stores that want to sell beer.

The study claims consumers could save $700 million per year if corner stores could get in on the sale of beer. The price of five popular brands were compared over several months between Ontario's Beer Store monopoly and Quebec's buy-beer-anywhere system.

My gut wants to say the study is probably correct - I'm against monopolies - but my brain and experience across Canada says, not so fast.

I live next door to Quebec and can vouch that the prices on beer are often much cheaper than Ontario - especially if you are like me and learn to drink what's on sale.

But I've also been to private liquor stores and corner stores that sell beer in other provinces and seen higher prices than in Ontario where the monopoly runs the show.

On a trip to Calgary last year, I spotted Molson Canadian for sale at $45 for a 24 pack, a price my friends tell me is pretty normal. In Ontario that same case costs $37.95, but can be picked up just a short drive from my office on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River for about $25.

Oh, and in Nova Scotia, the price is $42.98.

Creating that competition is a good thing. Ontario's PC Leader Tim Hudak has promised to allow beer and wine in corner stores if he forms government. In Nova Scotia Jamie Baillie, the province's PC leader, has promised the same if he wins the next election.

But that's only half the battle, we also need to push for lower prices by having lower taxes on beer.

We don't need governments placing 50% tax rates on any product, not even alcohol. Governments, which have grown far too big, too bureaucratic and too meddlesome at all levels, have decided that the one way they can fund themselves is to tax every vice known to man.

There is no justification for having taxes this high on alcohol, no matter how sinful some politicians think it is. Beer drinkers, and consumers in general, need a reprieve.

Here's to raising a glass to lower taxes in the future. Hopefully that's an idea smart politicians will get behind.

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