Saturday, June 21, 2014

43% Price Hike Does Not Sound Like Happy Hour to Me

Friday afternoon the Liberals announced that BC alcohol licensees, as of the time of the announcement (read policy directive here),  are now free to have temporary drink specials, otherwise known as happy hour.

But before you run down to your local pub looking for a 2-for-1 special, know that with the new minimum
drink pricing of $0.25 per 28 ml (one ounce) that was tied to the happy hour announcement, many beer drinkers in BC will see the regular price of their pint increase significantly, especially in more rural areas of BC.

At $0.25 an ounce, a pint works out to $5 before tax. My local in Powell River, for example, charged, before yesterday, $4.50 a pint (yes a real pint), tax included, for craft beer on a regular basis. Now that price will have to increase to hit the new minimum standard.

I will now pay more for my pint at the minimum "happy hour minimum" price threshold, before tax, than I was on a regular basis, with tax included, in my local and many other establishments in my town.

Happy Hour my ass.

This situation is not atypical to my local as economies outside the Lower Mainland are completely unrelated to Vancouver and big city prices due to variety of reasons, like the lack of high paying jobs or the necessity to rely on seasonal work to make ends meet. This new minimum pricing did not take that into consideration, or the BC Liberals and their crew of civil servants and bureaucrats who wrote the policy just did not care that this price hike may mean less business for small town pubs and those establishments that cater to the less affluent here in BC and less opportunity for those with low income to get outside of the four walls of their homes to socialize over a beer at their local.

And in areas like the outrageously priced Vancouver, where a pint often can run $10 after tax and tip, those places with great daily specials, like Martini's on Broadway for instance where a pint is, excuse me, was $3.50 on Wednesdays, because the new minimum drink pricing they will have to increase their "special" prices.

Using Martini's as an example, the price hike will be 43%!

It is obvious that Justice Minister/Attorney General, Suzanne Anton, her Parliamentary Secretary, John Yap and those they charged with shaping the new BC liquor policy "modernization" caved to the pressure from special interest groups.

Certain hospitality industry associations have been pushing against happy hours from the start as increased competition from lower booze prices during happy hours means less dollars in the pockets of their members. Big chains do not want to have to compete with smaller, independent establishments which are more likely to lower their prices for happy hours in order to lure customers through their doors.

And I warned you all in the past to be wary of the fact that government were listening closely to health officials about minimum pricing for booze in BC.

Health authorities and their advocates have been pushing for higher booze prices and less access to alcohol from the start of this process using statistics from vague, unnamed studies and scare tactics to push their agenda forward. When I had the opportunity to discuss this issue on radio on CBC (scroll down to Oct 31st) head-to-head with Fraser Health Medical Officer, Dr Lawrence Loh, he ran out a stat that 37% of people who present at BC emergency departments have had a drink of alcohol within 12 hours arriving.

Sounds like a very ominous and telling stat.

My response - what percentage of people in BC who consume a drink of alcohol do not present at an emergency department within 12 hours? That is a stat I would like to see! I guarantee you it is the 99% or above range.

The good doctor had no response to that. Stats can be twisted and manipulated any which way in most cases, depending on how you pose the question.

Dr Loh, in response to me stating that alcohol in grocery stores work in many other jurisdictions, stated we have to be wary of using other jurisdictions and studies based in those jurisdictions to predict what will happen in BC because we may have different attitudes and a different culture in BC related to alcohol.

Actually, a great point, but then, to bolster his argument 5 minutes later, he started spouting off stats from studies done in other jurisdictions that supported his point of view, contradicting his warning not to look to other places where booze is viewed in a different light than conservative BC.

This happy hour-minimum pricing policy is an epic fail for consumers in many areas of BC. As with the issue of alcohol in grocery stores, John Yap and those involved in the process from the government side, have completely misunderstood or completely ignored the real wants and needs of the alcohol consumers in this province. I am not sure if they are believe their own bullshit that they are listening to consumers and giving consumers what they want because clearly, they are not.

The government has quietly backed away from their promise to tie beer prices to alcohol content and instead have just nailed everyone. At the end of the day, the BC Liberals are not modernizing anything. They are making changes that look great but really have no effect in reducing the Nanny State that exists in BC related alcohol policy.

Now, if you don't mind, I am going to head down to my local and celebrate the return of happy hour in BC by paying $1.50 or so more for my pint than I did on Thursday.

Thank you John Yap, Suzanne Anton and all of those involved in this asshattery called the return of happy hour to BC.


  1. Great post paddy, I can't believe how much the liberals dropped the ball on this one. I really hope the backlash shows them that the responsible drinkers in BC are not to be gouged.

  2. Thanks consumers, we really need to kick up a stink about this one. This issue goes beyond the craft beer community as non-craft consumers will be nailed hard with this. The BC Liberals simply do not care about the average BCer. Another misguided policy changed that they tried to dress up as a positive when it was just them caving to pressure from special interest groups.

  3. Another health stat that I would be interested in knowing is, What percentage of those admitted to BC emergency departments who have had a drink of alcohol within the last 12 hours suffer from mental health issues or socio-economic difficulties? Because for those people who don't get the necessary help, they will seek a way to self-medicate. So all that means is that pricing alcohol higher to induce lower rates of alcoholism will simply increase rates of abuse of other substances. The solution is to address the problem, not the symptom. Even worse, in this case, is treating everyone like they are susceptible to alcoholism. Too bad the government doesn't have as much zeal for the far greater problems associated with diabetes and obesity, or childhood poverty in which BC has been a consistent national leader.

  4. More bread and circus mixed with government maths. No doubt we will be told that it's necessary to fund the teachers' pay hike ;)

  5. How can the government even enforce minimum pricing when many establishments don't declare their serving sizes to the customer, or misrepresent them? Or will the government simply pick and choose what rules they want to enforce?

  6. My Sunday tradition is, er, 'was' to head to an establishment 20 minutes away for the $3.50 pints of Fat Tug. Their Sunday special "was" $3.50 (+tax) for all craft pints. Not going to bother heading that way today, and may as well scrap that tradition now that pints are a MINIMUM of $5 + tax... after tax that means my pint has gone from $4.03 to $5.75, a $1.72 increase.
    I would typically have 3 pints and leave a tip, all for under $15 - that same "Happy Hour" is now going to cost $21 after tip, unless I start being a real dick and refuse to tip on the tax amount, even then my outing is still >40% more expensive.

    Oh - and did you catch that "Manufacturer Lounges and Special Endorsement areas" are also subject to the per oz minimum pricing on "all liquor sales in these establishments, including the sale of manufacturer samples" - meaning that minimum pricing on a 64oz growler fill just jumped to $14.75

  7. I do believe that growler sales and bottle sales from tasting rooms are exempt from this as they are sales for off-premises consumption. I am waiting for confirmation of this from the LCLB and will clarify it here on the blog when I hear back. Those sales are classified differently...I hope I am right on that!!
    The only way we can make an impact as consumers is to voice to our locals who are forced to raise their prices that we can no longer frequent their establishments. They will then complain to the gov't who may be forced to revisit this, but it will take a lot of will from the consumers who need to make a lot of noise. I am currently writing a letter to Anton voicing my displeasure. I suggest you do the same Calvin, highlighting what you wrote in your comment above!

  8. Really simple to me: BC Liquor Distribution Branch needs a solution to raise their sales and satisfy their union. (which they do by making their competition less competitive, price wise) They need a 5 - 10% difference or subsidize from taxpayer, because we can't shut down BC L due to their powerful union. And frankly, I don't want to see people in BCL lose their jobs.

    The Liberals have simply gave way to powerful advocates of BC L (NDP), which is A-OK, because the Liberals already have allowed private liquor sales through non-BCL stores, as well as micro-breweries, which were not allowed under NDP leadership.

  9. The government wants to regulate EVERYTHING :( Of course it's for our own good:/
    I don't think, and I resent the fact, that the government is dictating to me what I can charge my customers. The government should get out of the liquor business. The government should get out of business........period!!

  10. Unknown - the government will only see an increase in revenue related to the extra alcohol tax paid because of these higher prices in some establishments. I honestly do not think this has anything to do the the BCGEU employees and everything to do with the government and the LCLB wanting to maintain a stranglehold over alcohol consumption in this province. They just don't seem able to shake this need to treat responsible adults like children

  11. My worst fear was that we're going to see the emergence of new (smaller) serving sizes, and new glassware that looks and feels big but holds less - like a 10oz glass that they can put on special for $2.50 and a 14oz sleeve that they can discount to $3.50, and in talking to bar managers and owners over the last 2 days this is exactly what I'm now hearing. I feel this will completely undermine all of the hard work that CAMRA has put in to the FUSS campaign, fighting for a true pint and honest serving sizes.