VANCOUVER, BC – As part of a large and ongoing Liquor Policy Review initiative, the B.C. Government last week announced a new policy that will allow licensed establishments to lower their drink prices at various times to “attract customers at times when business may typically be slow,” essentially legalizing Happy Hours.
However, the new rules also include minimum drink pricing guidelines that have immediately been panned by many beer drinkers, pub owners, and consumer advocates in the province.
As shown in the infographic excerpted above (full version here), bars and restaurants must now charge a minimum of 25 cents per ounce (28 ml) for beer and cider, including draught and packaged (bottle and can) formats. This means a full 20 oz pint of beer will cost a minimum of $5.00 before taxes – an amount which is actually higher than the current regular price for a pint in some bars in the province, rendering moot the “Happy Hour” portion of the new policy, and forcing these establishments to raise their standard prices.
In a post on the website of CAMRA Vancouver, chapter president Adam Chatburn slams the new rules in quite blunt terms:
Not exactly happy hour if the minimum prices are pretty much exactly where beer prices already are, in fact lots of bars are going to have to raise their prices to comply with this ludicrously high minimum level! Outside of Vancouver and Victoria pints often cost less than $5 and this is a spit in the face of all those beer-drinkers, those pubs are now breaking the law and they have no idea yet! Do you regularly buy a beer that costs less than $5 before tax? Well not for long you won’t.
The minimum wage in BC is $10.25 so there’s now no chance that the millions of British Columbians who earn this (or less) can even buy 2 beers (tax included), maybe even one would break the bank once a tip, income and sales taxes are added. Someone needs to tell these wealthy fools that not just rich people like to drink!
Also unhappy about the policy is Paddy Treavor, former CAMRA Vancouver president and author of VanEast Beer Blog, who posted an initial reaction to the announcement, as well as an open letter to Suzanne Anton (B.C. Minister of Justice and Attorney General) & John Yap (Parliamentary Secretary for Liquor Policy Reform), where he states the following:
In the community I live in, Powell River, prices have no relation to those you find in the bigger urban areas and I can tell you that by setting the price of a pint of beer at $5, many in my town are going to see the price of their beers rise by over 30%! This is in an area where good paying jobs are not easy to find and where many have a tight entertainment budget. I have traveled around BC enough to know this is going to be true in many other communities. My local, neighourhood pub previously sold a pint of craft beer at $4.50 with the tax included. I now will have to pay $5.75 with tax. And as I mentioned, those drinking the cheaper lagers will see an even bigger hit to their wallet. So great, my local pub can have a happy hour now where they are able to offer beers substantially more expensive this week than they were regularly before the policy change last week.
Media coverage of the new policy has also highlighted the negative aspects of the minimum pricing, with a CBC British Columbia story including a quote from disappointed pub owner:
Steve Bauer, of Vancouver’s Pumpjack Pub, says customers may soon find the cost of a pitcher of beer has jumped by five dollars or more.
“The 60 ounce jugs are going up to a minimum of $15, tax out, which takes you to over $17 dollars for a jug,” he said. “A lot of people on this street aside from ourselves and restaurants, you’ll [have seen] them for $11, $12. So that’s all gone!”
The B.C. Government has yet to respond to this negative feedback.