Pro­vin­cial govern­ment scraps beer tax in­crease

Windsor Star - - CITY+REGION -

The On­tario govern­ment is can­celling a sched­uled in­crease in the pro­vin­cial beer tax that was set to kick in next month — a move that will see the prov­ince forgo $11 mil­lion in po­ten­tial rev­enue. The Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives said Fri­day that the three-cent-per-litre in­crease was planned by the pre­vi­ous Lib­eral regime and will be scrapped.

“This is just one more tax hike that was due,” Fi­nance Min­is­ter Vic Fedeli said in an in­ter­view. “We look at ev­ery sin­gle op­por­tu­nity to rein in the taxes. 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 per litre each year since 2015. Beer and wine taxes brought in rev­enues of roughly $589 mil­lion in 2016-2017. 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, 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 noted that tax in­creases aren’t part of the govern­ment’s strat­egy, say­ing debt and deficit would be tack­led through “ef­fi­cien­cies.”

The govern­ment is cur­rently 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 is still look­ing at that pos­si­ble ex­pan­sion but he didn’t have a time­line for when a re­port on the mat­ter would be re­leased.

“It’s a mon­u­men­tal task,” he said. “There’s a lot of in­for­ma­tion gath­er­ing.… 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 beer-re­lated 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.

LARS HAGBERG/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/FILES

Premier Doug Ford’s govern­ment is cur­rently re­view­ing the prov­ince’s ap­proach to beer and wine sales.

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