B.C. Government Adjusts Minimum Drink Pricing Rules, Still Faces Criticism

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VANCOUVER, BC – In an attempt to address the criticism that swelled in response to minimum drink pricing legislation implemented last month as part of its ongoing Liquor Policy Review initiative, the B.C. Government has announced some minor changes to the rules – changes that have already been slammed for not going far enough.

In the originally announced pricing structure, bars and restaurants were directed to charge a minimum of 25 cents per ounce (28 ml) for beer and cider, including draught and packaged formats. This meant a full 20 oz pint of beer would cost a minimum of $5.00 before taxes, and a 60 oz pitcher would cost $15.00 – prices that were substantially higher than the previous regular price for a pint or pitcher in some bars in the province.

Responding to widespread complaints about the new pricing, the Government announced last Friday that the floor price for servings of 50 oz or greater of draught beer would be reduced to 20 cents per ounce, allowing a standard 60 ounce pitcher to now be priced as low as $12.00 before taxes. However, smaller draught formats and all bottles and cans must still meet the originally announced 25 cents per ounce minimum.

The modified policy received a quick response from CAMRA BC, a consumer advocacy group that was strongly against the original policy, and that feels further changes are needed:

This is a baby step towards a more reasonable minimum price but it’s baffling that after all their talk about setting a minimum price for your own good they then decide to complicate matters even further. CAMRA BC broadly welcomes the change and thanks the government for listening (despite all other appearances to the contrary) – as they say in the release they are “open to revisiting prices if they did not match consumers’ expectations.” Well judging by the backlash in the media and the avalanche of letters and emails you sent they didn’t match your expectations and I’m not sure they have done yet.

This change could even be seen to encourage over-drinking as the working drinkers of BC seek to get their moneys worth and order more for less – hardly in tune with their position of “maintain(ing) a good balance between the price options British Columbians expect while still protecting health and public safety.”

Also critical of the minor change is Paddy Treavor, former CAMRA Vancouver president and author of VanEast Beer Blog, who was one of the most vocal opponents of the original plan, and continues to rail against it now:

As craft beer drinkers, this change will impact us in a very limited way. Very few craft-beer-friendly places serve pitchers as most craft beers are stronger in alcohol so licensees do not feel it is appropriate to offer the bigger serving sizes. In fact, fewer and fewer licensees are even offering pitchers any more as, more often than not, draught beer serving sizes are being reduced to the ever-shrinking “sleeve” glass.

This change will give some slight relief to those who enjoy the mainstream lagers that have dominated the Canadian market for decades but, as mentioned, they will still be paying far more for their happy hour pitchers than in other provinces in Canada.

Canadian Beer News will continue to monitor this story, and will provide updates if any further changes are announced.

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