July 18, 2018

NDP Beer Policy Needs Sober Second Thought

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Craft beer, especially when produced locally, tells a story. From the farmer to the consumer, it connects communities and highlights the hard-working women and men who pour their heart and soul into a product they believe in. These products should be celebrated and enjoyed across Canada. Unfortunately, a battle has been brewing in Alberta over unfair and tilted beer price taxes and markups that clearly violate interprovincial trade agreements. Our neighbours to the west have marked-up imported product while heavily promoting and selling small Alberta brewery products at a lower price.

It was refreshing to see a trade panel hold the Alberta NDP government accountable for their unfair actions and anti-trade policies, having found them guilty of violating free interprovincial trade agreements. One brewery involved in this dispute was Great Western Brewing Company from Saskatoon. Just one week after the panel’s review was released, the Court of Queen’s Bench sided with Great Western, stating that these markups were unconstitutional. The Alberta NDP was deceitful in adding a markup to all products, yet only providing loans to small breweries in Alberta to be able to afford them.

In response to the Court’s ruling, Michael Brennan, the president and CEO of Great Western said “This is good news for our brewery, it’s good news for our employees and it’s good news for Alberta consumers who will ultimately benefit from lower beer prices and greater selection.”

Now that the Queen’s Bench has made its ruling, it is up to the Alberta Government to change their unfair policies. On the surface, it seemed that Alberta’s Economic Development Minister Deron Bilous would abide by the ruling saying that “Alberta will honour the ruling of the (beer) appeal panel. That was our intention from Day 1. We play by the rules.” However, on July 18th, in NDP fashion, they flip-flopped and announced that Alberta would make an appeal.

The dispute began in the spring of 2016 when a Calgary-based craft beer importer, along with Great Western Brewing Company and Steam Whistle Brewery, filed a complaint against the NDP’s discriminatory beer taxes that were hurting their business. The tax markups, which took effect in 2015, tilted the playing field for Canadian products to be sold in Alberta. While it should have been clear that this was a violation of trade laws and agreements in Canada, the NDP pushed forward anyway.

Before the Alberta NDP began meddling in the industry, there was a markup of 47 cents on Great Western Products. Now, cases of beer have gone up almost $7.00. Great Western once saw 60% of their sales made in Alberta but, obviously, that has since changed.

Despite other breweries from across Canada joining in the fight, the Alberta NDP is refusing to take a sober second look at their backwards ideology, turning their backs on the people of that province.

Leah Holoiday, a spokesperson for Alberta’s Finance Minister stated that “The current markup system ensures a level playing field for all beer producers, no matter the region of origin or size of brewer.”

Let’s be honest, if this was the case the government should not have been called for review twice in the past three years.

Instead of promoting small breweries, the NDP ended up discouraging and dismantling small businesses not only in Alberta, but nationwide. This small-minded mismanagement did the exact opposite of what was intended. This deeply hurts breweries from Saskatchewan, as so much of their product will not be able to get to market.

The Queen’s Bench ruled that the Alberta Government will pay back around $2 million to breweries like Great Western who have been hurt by these mark-ups. Now, because of the appeal, it is not guaranteed that Great Western will see this money any time soon.

From local farmers producing hops and barley to consumers wanting to try something new, the Alberta NDP didn’t bother to consider the impact their markups would have on communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan. It is unfair and unjust for a government to involve themselves in such a way that ignores and neglects stakeholders and breaks trade agreements. Having an open liquor market benefits every level of production.

Meanwhile the NDP in Saskatchewan have actually voted against our government’s measures to support small business. On the surface the NDP claims to promote and support local breweries, but their history of fiscal mismanagement and job-killing policies tells us the true story.

At all levels, the NDP has a history of failing innovators and job creators through higher taxes, trade barriers and anti-business “government knows best” policies.

We remain hopeful that once again Rachel Notley’s NDP will be held accountable in this battle over craft beer. Though their Economic Development Minister claims that “Alberta maintains the most open liquor market in the country,” we’re certainly not buying it. And neither are consumers, brewmasters, or businessmen.

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David Buckingham is the MLA for Saskatoon Westview and serves as Legislative Secretary to the Minister responsible for Immigration and Career Training