Thursday, June 26, 2014

Will The BC Libs Risk Tax Revenue or Make a FUSS About Serving Sizes?

As most of you reading this will know, last week the BC Liberals announced policy changes that would allow BC licensees to have "happy hours" but the trade off was that there were new minimum drink prices put in place, the highest in Canada by the way, that would see the price of a drink increase for many BC alcohol consumers at their local water hole.

I will not go into how disgusted I am with this move that sees many paying 30% or more for a pint of beer in their local, but you can read my original post here and my open letter to Justice Minister & Attorney General, Suzanne Anton and her parliamentary secretary, John Yap, here.

I will tell you that Anton's assumption that there may be the "occasional case" where a licensee has to raise the price of there drinks is dead wrong, even in  grossly, overpriced Vancouver. I recently found a website that lists all drink specials in Vancouver and, for example, on a Monday there were 261 specials listed and out of those, I stopped counting at 20 those who would be in violation of the new policy.

What I am wondering at this point is if Anton & Co decide to stick with this ill-thought-out and misguided policy, where the minimum drink price is directly tied to the volume of the drink, is Anton going to press the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) to pay attention to serving sizes and enforce the LCLB policy that all licensees must provide a drink price and serving size list for all alcoholic beverages served in the establishment or is she just going to trust that these licensees, many of whom have been misleading consumers for years, are going to suddenly become honest about how much they are serving?

If she leaves the licensees to regulate themselves, she is leaving the fox in the hen house. Many licensees will manipulate the situation to suit themselves, claiming smaller serving sizes so they can have lower drink specials to draw people in and so as not to alienate their regular customers by raising the price of their pint by 30%. This obviously benefits the consumer but means government will miss out on alcohol tax revenue and I have never seen a government that does not take an interest in maximizing their tax revenue from consumers.

On the flip side of things, some will be claiming larger serving sizes than they are actually providing, as is the widespread practice now, so they can continue to gouge the consumer during their happy hours and now they can blame it on the government's new drink minimum.

The Campaign for Real Ale of BC (CAMRA BC), with their Fess Up to Serving Sizes (FUSS) Campaign, has been pushing for years to have the LCLB enforce this serving size list policy, and ensure the serving size volumes that are listed are accurate, but the LCLB and the BC Liberals have repeatedly said they don't care about serving sizes and that licensees can self-regulate in regards to complying with the serving size list requirement.

In fact, in a recent response to a letter by CAMRA BC suggesting that the serving size list policy be enforced and the government consider legislating that certified, marked glassware (indicating volume of the glass) be required, like in Britain and many European nations, our Justice Minister wrote:
"For public safety reasons a licensee's terms and conditions guide states the maximum serving sizes that an individual or group of people may order at any one time. In addition, the licensee must have a list available showing drinks, drink sizes and prices.  Beyond that, government's focus is not on the array of serving sizes found within the province.
Government's resources and focus lay heavily on public safety issues, such as over-crowding, minors accessing alcohol, public disturbance, illegal activities, and so forth.  It would be a burden for provincial liquor inspectors and police to measure glassware in addition to their other duties.  If a customer is not pleased with the service in an establishment, they have the choice of raising the issue with the licensee or taking their business to other bars or restaurants."
So if the government is not going to concern themselves with the size of drink an establishment serves, other than making sure they do not offer more than the legislated, maximum drink size, how are they going to enforce this new minimum and insure they are getting their fair share via alcohol tax?

Or more to the point, what the Hell is the point of the new policy if they have no way, or no desire to enforce it due to limited resources and limited desire?

I can imagine this conversation happening all over BC:

Liquor Inspector: "That looks like a pint glass and you are selling it for $4. You need to charge $5!"
Licensee: "Why you are mistaking, kind liquor inspector. That glass only holds 16 oz therefore the minimum I can charge is $4."
Liquor Inspector: "OK, I trust you completely. Thank you for clearing that up. Carry on"

Now that government revenue can potentially be compromised, maybe, just maybe, the LCLB liquor inspectors will be directed to take a little more interest in just exactly how much beer is in your glass and the practice of misrepresenting serving sizes will be eliminated.

Time will tell, and who knows what the government is thinking. By the looks of this, they really were misinformed and badly advised as to how this new policy would impact consumers and obviously, they did not think things through.

Also, as an aside, by advising customers that if they don't like getting defrauded and ripped off they should raise the issue with the licensee and/or take their business elsewhere and not bother the Justice Minister's office, is BC's top cop, the person charged with overseeing justice and law enforcement in this province, not condoning dodgy business practices and fraud?

It certainly seems she is not interested in making sure British Columbians get what they paid for but I could be mistaken as to what the Justice Minister condones and what she does not. I can only go by the e-mail I received.


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