Gordon Kent: Trade panel hearing liquor store’s challenge to Alberta craft brewery tax in June

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A trade panel hearing is scheduled in Edmonton June 1 into a Calgary liquor importer’s complaint that Alberta’s system of beer taxation violates trade agreements.

The province has imposed a $1.25-per-litre markup on beer, but last August introduced a rebate for Alberta craft brewers to support the local industry.

Artisan Ales, which imports craft beer into Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, says in a news release its sales have dropped nearly 40 per cent because of what it calls a discriminatory policy.

The company argues the tax violates Canada’s Constitution Act and the Agreement on Internal Trade by erecting barriers to out-of-province competition.

“The intent of these policies was to shield the provincial craft brewing industry from competition by driving up prices on beer from outside … Alberta. But far from promoting economic development and diversifying the economy, these policies have had the opposite effect for many businesses.”

It says the Government of Saskatchewan is intervening in support of Artisan, which is also backed by the Canadian Constitution Foundation.

The Alberta government has said it does not believe the new markup system violates the terms of any interprovincial trade agreements since it does not restrict any brewer from selling
in the province.

Defenders of the system have also argued Alberta brewers face barriers in other jurisdictions, where government-controlled liquor stores encourage the promotion and sale of local products above others.

The number of
craft breweries
and small brew pubs in the province has almost quadrupled in the last three years, rising to 52 from 14.

Last November, a judge granted an injunction against the beer mark-up policy requested by Ontario-based Steam Whistle Brewing and Saskatchewan’s Great Western Brewing Company, which said the rules
are unconstitutional.