Beer tax in­crease scrapped

The province will forego $11 mil­lion in po­ten­tial rev­enue with the cut

The London Free Press - - ONTARIO - SHAWN JEFFORDS

TORONTO — The On­tario gov­ern­ment is can­celling a sched­uled in­crease in the provin­cial beer tax set to kick in next month, a move that will see the province forgo $11 mil­lion in po­ten­tial rev­enue.

The Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives said Fri­day the three-cent-a-litre in­crease was planned by the pre­vi­ous Lib­eral regime and will be scrapped.

“We look at ev­ery sin­gle op­por­tu­nity to rein in the taxes,” Fi­nance Min­is­ter Vic Fedeli said in an in­ter­view. “From the largest pos­si­ble, the cap-and-trade tax, all the way through to the beer tax.”

The gov­ern­ment said beer taxes have in­creased by three cents al­itre each year since 2015. Beer and wine taxes brought in rev­enues of roughly $589 mil­lion in 20162017.

The halt­ing of this year’s in­crease — which was set to take ef­fect Nov. 1 — will mean On­tario’s trea­sury will forgo $11 mil­lion in po­ten­tial rev­enue that would have come in be­tween Novem­ber and the end of the fis­cal year in March 2019, the gov­ern­ment said.

The move comes as the gov­ern­ment has said it faces a chal­lenge to deal with the province’s deficit and debt. Fedeli said tax in­creases aren’t part of the gov­ern­ment’s strat­egy, say­ing debt and deficit would be tack­led through “ef­fi­cien­cies.”

The gov­ern­ment is re­view­ing the province’s ap­proach to beer and wine sales, in­clud­ing the pos­si­ble ex­pan­sion of sales into cor­ner and big box stores.

Fedeli said the gov­ern­ment was still look­ing at that pos­si­ble ex­pan­sion but didn’t have a time­line for when a re­port on the mat­ter would be re­leased.

“It’s a mon­u­men­tal task,” he said. “We want to pro­vide more ac­cess and we want to do it right.”

Green Party leader Mike Schreiner said the Ford gov­ern­ment is “ob­sessed” with beer­re­lated poli­cies at the ex­pense of more press­ing mat­ters.

“How many new teach­ers or nurses could have been hired with this beer tax rev­enue?” he said in a state­ment. “The av­er­age On­tar­ian won’t no­tice a one-cent dif­fer­ence on beer, but they will no­tice the de­clin­ing state of our hos­pi­tals and schools as the premier fol­lows through with his aus­ter­ity plans.”

Ear­lier this year, the gov­ern­ment brought back so-called buck-abeer to the province.

The pol­icy im­ple­mented this sum­mer low­ers the min­i­mum price of a bot­tle or can of beer to $1 from $1.25. Brew­ers are not re­quired to charge less and the min­i­mum price doesn’t ap­ply to draft beer, nor does it in­clude the bot­tle de­posit.

Busi­nesses were of­fered prime spots in Liquor Con­trol Board of On­tario stores and ad­ver­tis­ing in the store magazine’s in­serts, among other pos­si­ble in­cen­tives for selling their beer for $1.

Two brew­eries, Cool Brew­ery in Toronto and Bar­ley Days Brew­ery in Pic­ton, have said they will of­fer lower-priced brews, while Loblaws of­fered its Pres­i­dent’s Choice beer for one dollar a bot­tle for a lim­ited time.

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