Beer and pol­i­tics come up flat for brew­eries

The Glengarry News - - Front Page - BY STEVEN WAR­BUR­TON News Staff

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.

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