Beer and politics come up flat for breweries
Andy Rorabeck says he’s not too excited about the Ontario government’s reinstatement of the Buck-A-Beer policy.
Although the government says bringing back Buck-A-Beer will strengthen the local economy and take money away from “foreign multinational breweries,” Mr. Rorabeck – a former Char-Lan District High School teacher who now operates the Cornwall-based Rurban Brewing – says there’s no way his company will participate.
“Any beer that attempts to meet the new $1 floor price will either be a loss leader, or awful,” he said. “We're about great quality at a great price, not making low-quality, lowpriced junk. Last time I checked, ‘politics’ wasn't an ingredient on our labels.”
According to a May 26 media release from the Ontario government, the Buck-A-Beer policy was reinstated to encourage competition and protect consumers.
“In 2008 the Liberal government increased the minimum price floor for beer, which discouraged competition and gouged consumers who previously benefitted from buying beer in a competitive marketplace,” says the press release. “Under the PC Plan, brewers and retailers will be allowed to once again compete on price, down to the $1 per bottle price floor that previously existed.”
According to the PCs, the Liberals’ decision was “solely about lining the pockets of foreign multinational brewers and protecting the monopoly of the Beer Store.”
The PCs believe they can fix the problem by amending the regulations within the Liquor Control Act to allow for a minimum price floor of $24 for 24 bottles of beer, plus deposit.
“This will force brewers to reconsider their sale prices to stay competitive, all while delivering lower prices to consumers,” said the release. “To allow for more competition, all retailers will be able to sell packaging sizes commonly found at the Beer Store, including cases of 12 or 24 bottles or cans.”
But many of Ontario’s craft brewery operators aren’t as optimistic as the Progressive Conservatives. Even before last June’s provincial election, other operators like Steve Beauchesne of Vankleek Hill’s Beau’s Brewery, were speaking out against the policy. In a CBC radio interview just before the election, he praised Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government for protecting craft brewers.
“They’ve brought beer into grocery stores, insisted that a certain percentage of beer on the shelves has to be craft beer,” he said. “They’ve done a lot for the craft beer industry.”
Mr. Beauchesne was nervous about the PCs’ Buck-A-Beer promise, which, he said, would exclude craft beer in favour of the “cheapest corn-syrupiest beer you could find.” Recently, on Facebook, he was even more vociferous.
“For the record. No. We will not be participating in the buck-a-beer challenge,” he wrote. “It’s a nonsensical proposition. Can we take the politics out of beer and get back to drinking it?”
Mr. Rorabeck tends to agree, dismissing Buck-A-Beer as “an enigmatic pronouncement.”
“There wasn't a single beer in the province that sold at the floor price before it was low- ered this weekend,” he claims. “Promised enticements of prime LCBO shelf space for $1 beer producers will cut into space that is currently paid for by bigger drinks manufacturers, which makes no sense either.”
Mr. Rorabeck even offered some advice to the PCs if they really want to help craft breweries. “If the Ford government really wants to aid in job creation, they might want to look at lowering provincial taxes for all breweries, not just a select few,” he said. “We would certainly use any savings in that vein for more jobs, more brewery improvements, and supporting local initiatives to a greater degree than we already do. And we already do a lot for a company our size.”
For his part, Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry PC MPP Jim McDonell says that the big reason behind Buck-A-Beer was to get rid of some of the regulations and bring the price of beer down to a more competitive level.
“Our beer is already much more expensive than anywhere else,” he claimed in an Aug. 10 telephone interview.
While he understands that craft brewers may not wish to be regular participants, he says they could still take advantage of the Buck-A-Beer policy if they wanted to briefly promote a new product.
He added that his government is still committed to making beer available in corner stores and small grocery stores across the province, a promise the Doug Ford government made in last month’s throne speech.
Whether or not the PCs would insist that a percentage of that beer be from craft breweries, he says, would have to be investigated before a final decision is made.