It was a chilly, windy day in late October in 2015, when Alberta launched a surprise offensive to begin The Great Alberta Beer Battle of ’15. The Finance Minister issue an edict to immediately tax all small craft-type beer from outside Western Canada and additional $1.25 per litre.
The plan was for two big victories. First, it would raise $85 million for the red ink ridden Alberta government budget. And it would also give a leg up to the about 40 little brewers in Alberta.
This lightening strike was effective, some of the 30 small brewers in eastern Canada saw the writing on the wall and stopped shipping to Alberta. Others fought on and saw their beer volumes to Alberta fall through the floor.
Another casualty was Alberta’s reputation as Canada’s leading advocate for internal free trade. For decades the province had railed against the protectionist rules of other provinces that prevented a level playing field for Alberta companies.
Alberta craft-beer aficionados took a friendly fire hit – they pay more and have less selection.
It didn’t take long for a counter attack to be mounted. A beer importer based in Calgary launched a complaint with the federal government agency that monitors internal trade. A couple of brewers launched a lawsuit against the province.
Back in the bunker, Alberta saw a weakness in the plan. Time to change tactics! Last summer a new announcement – now everyone (including Alberta brewers) would pay the tax. And a new program will be proclaimed. The Alberta Small Brewers Development Program will give grants to help Alberta’s small brewers grow their business. These grants basically provided the same amount as the brewers new tax.
“Foul” cried the complainants to the feds! It looked like Alberta was trying to do indirectly what it could not achieve directly. So last week the federal agency’s tribunal declared that the grant program contravened Canada’s rules on internal trade.
In reply from the bunker came the announcement “We are currently reviewing the decision and will have more to say in the coming days”.
Severely Normal Albertans are reminded that the First Rule of Holes applies here. “When you find yourself in one – stop digging!”
Perhaps the Finance department’s energy would have been better employed looking for ways to save $85 million instead of launching into a battle that:
tarnishes our reputation around the intergovernmental trade tables.
Hurts small brewers in other parts of Canada
increases price and reduces choice for loyal craft beer lovin Albertans.