Letters to the Editor

Break for booze sellers

Private liquor stores will get a deeper discount on the alcohol they buy from the province in a move critics say is calculated to undermine government-run outlets.

As of Jan. 28, private stores will pay 16 per cent less than the retail prices government stores charge. Until now the discount from the government wholesaler was 13 per cent, and that had been ratcheted up in recent years from an original 10 per cent.

“This is a New Year’s gift to the private liquor store industry,” charged Consumer Association of Canada president Bruce Cran.

He predicted the extra three per cent break – worth an estimated $20 million per year to the industry – will pad the profits of private operators rather than being passed down to consumers.

A study by the association found B.C. residents pay more for liquor because private stores have gained market share through the province’s policy of “creeping privatization” of government stores.

Solicitor General John Les defended the fatter discount, saying the industry persuaded him it was needed.

“They made the point very strongly that a 13 per cent discount was inadequate to run their outlets, especially with upward pressure on the cost of clerical staff and competition for available employees,” he said.

“It will make them more competitive in the marketplace and more competitive against one another,” Les predicted. “I believe strongly that a good chunk of that increased discount is going to end up in the pockets of the consumer.”

He noted the new collective agreement with the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union assures that nearly all government stores will remain open over the four-year contract.

And he said government stores continue to modernize with the creation of specialty “Signature” outlets.

“We’re not treating the Liquor Distribution Branch stores as a dying asset,” Les said.

The BCGEU called the bigger discount an “outrageous giveaway” of taxpayer money that could have gone to medical treatment or other programs.

Union president George Heyman said the province also cancelled extended holiday hours in recent weeks, which he said was another effort to hobble government stores and force buyers to patronize private stores.

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