“Raise the Bar” report card calls on Ottawa and provinces to improve pricing, taxation and interprovincial trade

Nov. 7, 2017 (Toronto) – High prices, unfair taxation and outdated rules continue to frustrate Canada’s bar and restaurant owners. Those are the findings of the latest Raise the Bar report card on provincial liquor policies, published today by industry association Restaurants Canada.

In addition to rating each province on its liquor policies for bars and restaurants, Raise the Bar 2017 calls on the federal government to take action in two areas:

  1. Excise tax: Revoke a hidden “tax escalator” that will automatically increase the federal excise tax on beer, wine and spirits every year – without a review or a vote in Parliament. The measure, announced in the 2017 federal budget, is estimated to cost business owners and consumers nearly half a billion dollars in five years.
  2. Interprovincial Trade: Move forward on allowing free trade in beer, wine and spirits, which were specifically excluded from the Canada Free Trade Agreement unveiled earlier this year. (A New Brunswick man, Gerard Comeau, is challenging current laws in this area, and his case will be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada on Dec. 7.)

“Ottawa’s involvement in liquor policy has so far done more to hinder the hospitality industry than to help it, but the government has a real opportunity to change things for the better,” says Joyce Reynolds, executive vice president of government affairs for Restaurants Canada. “We’re asking the federal government to better serve small businesses that invest in local communities, market Canadian products, create jobs, and host tourists and visitors from around the world.”

At the provincial level, Alberta gets top marks on the report card, but earns a “B” instead of an “A” because of a recent increase in liquor mark-ups and an end to the liquor server wage. This special wage category recognized the significant income liquor servers earn through gratuities. On the plus side, Alberta is the only province to offer true wholesale pricing on beer, wine and spirits.

Newfoundland and Labrador is once again at the bottom of the class with a D-minus grade. The liquor corporation has worked to improve relations with licensees, but high prices, limited selection and excess red tape continue to frustrate business owners.

“Lack of wholesale pricing continues to be the number one irritant for our licensed members in most provinces,” says Reynolds. “It makes no sense that high-volume buyers like bars and restaurants pay the same retail price that individual consumers do, or in some cases even higher.”

In addition to price, the report identifies numerous roadblocks ranging from antiquated ordering and delivery systems in Ontario to mandatory paper stamps that fall off bottles in Quebec.

The full rankings are:

Province Grade
Alberta B
Quebec B-
Nova Scotia B-
P.E.I. B-
British Columbia C
Manitoba C
Saskatchewan C-
Ontario D+
New Brunswick D
Newfoundland D-

“Many provinces have made headway since our first Raise the Bar report in 2015, and we look forward to continued progress,” says Reynolds. “Updated liquor regulations and true wholesale pricing are good for business, good for customers and good for Canadian hospitality.”

Canada’s bars and licensed restaurants represent 48,000 businesses, directly employ 560,000 Canadians, and generate $8.2 billion a year in economic activity, 97% of which goes back to the community through wages, benefits, business purchases and charitable donations.

The complete Raise the Bar report card is available at restaurantscanada.org/raise-the-bar-2017.

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