Edmonton Journal

Alberta open to freer — but fair — alcohol markets

A level playing field is crucial for interprovi­ncial trade, says Dale Nally.

- Dale Nally is the minister of Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction.

Albertans take great pride in our open and free markets. One of the clearest examples of this is our retail marketplac­e for liquor products.

In Alberta, our system stands on three pillars. One: it allows entreprene­urs to thrive, creating thousands of stable, reliable jobs. Two: it gives consumers choice and convenienc­e that is the envy of the rest of Canada. Three: it helps fund vital public services for all Albertans.

Recently, the system's regulator, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC), cracked down on some activity that was threatenin­g the third pillar. AGLC identified 106 out-of-province liquor suppliers, mostly from British

Columbia, who were bypassing Alberta's system by shipping directly to consumers.

These suppliers were able to avoid having their products be subject to the same provincial liquor markups as all liquor products in Alberta. This is unfair to Alberta-based businesses and producers from other jurisdicti­ons who are following the rules because it gives the rule-breakers an unfair pricing advantage.

AGLC ordered these suppliers to stop sending shipments outside of Alberta's regulated liquor model immediatel­y and let them know that, unless they follow Alberta's rules, their products will no longer be allowed for sale in the province.

To be clear, Alberta — like many other provinces — has had rules against direct-to-consumer shipping for years. These rules are not a secret and it is the responsibi­lity of anyone doing business in our province to know them. It is AGLC's job to ensure everyone plays by the rules, and that is exactly what they have done.

At the same time, we have been hearing from Alberta craft producers that their products face unfair barriers to the B.C. market. They tell me that B.C.'s liquor system is unfairly biased in favour of B.C.-based producers.

Clearly, there is an imbalance between our provinces. A recent check with AGLC showed more than 2,400 different products from B.C. were warehoused in Alberta for distributi­on to our retailers.

Meanwhile, a search of the B.C. government's liquor distributi­on website found just four products from three Alberta producers. You do the math.

My ministry officials and I have been in discussion­s with our counterpar­ts in B.C. about opening up liquor markets in our provinces. We will continue to work together and I am optimistic we will find solutions that will benefit both of our provinces.

We are always open to opportunit­ies to improve interprovi­ncial trade, but there needs to be a level playing field for everyone in the game. Good neighbours should be good trading partners and that starts with open and free markets.

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