Nfld. & Labrador

Cross-border beer shopping still a 'frustrating' problem in Labrador City

With the amount of alcohol people can carry between provinces about to be raised, one convenience store owner says Quebec booze already eats into her beer sales.

Drive 20 minutes to Quebec, save $20 on a two-four of beer

These cans are a whole lot cheaper in Quebec. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

With the amount of alcohol people can carry between provinces about to be raised, a convenience store owner in Labrador City says the amount of beer bought in Quebec and brought over the border is already hurting her bottom line.

"I'm sure we're losing quite a bit," said Brenda Tobin, who co-owns two convenience stores in the town, both of which sell beer.

"Obviously we do lose business to Fermont for that. It affects us, of course. For every dozen beer people go up there and buy, that's a sale gone for one of our local stores."

Labrador City is less than 30 kilometres away from Fermont, Que., where alcohol is notably cheaper than in Newfoundland and Labrador.

For every dozen beer people go up there and buy, that's a sale gone for one of our local stores.- Brenda Tobin

The same situation exists in the Strait of Belle Isle area of southern Labrador. Many people there drive across the border to Blanc Sablon, Que., to stock up on their booze.

Quebec's beer prices are among the lowest in Canada, where a 24-pack of canned Bud Light — one of this province's most popular beers — is allowed to retail for a minimum of $24.37, according to an organization of Quebec convenience stores.

However, since Quebec allows retailers to set their own prices above the minimum, that two-four of Bud Light commonly commands a somewhat higher price — generally around the $31 mark.

The same case of Bud Light in Newfoundland and Labrador? $52.65.

Welcome to wallet-friendly Fermont. (CBC)

"Our beer pricing is all regulated by the government. We have no control over what price goes on the beer," Tobin told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning, adding she doesn't blame anyone crossing the border to save a few bucks.

"It's nice for people to support their locals, and keep their corner stores and convenience stores and everything on the go in town. But … I totally understand where they're coming from."

'It's frustrating'

There may be more Labradorians making the drive to Quebec in the near future.

Currently, it's illegal to cross the border carrying more than two dozen beers, 40 oz. of wine and 40 oz. of spirits, but those amounts will be raised following an interprovincial deal made by premiers in July.

Tobin remains philosophical about any potential impacts that change may have on her business.

"I don't think that it's going to make a big difference, because people are getting what they want already," she said.

"It gets frustrating, but like anything else that gets frustrating, you have to deal with it."

Brenda Tobin of Tobin's Convenience doesn't blame anyone in Labrador West for driving to Quebec to save a few bucks. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Lack of enforcement

Despite the impending change, Tobin can't recall in her 40-odd years of life in Labrador West of anyone ever being pulled over by police for bringing Quebec beer across the border.

"I don't know of anyone that's ever been stopped and anything taken from them or anything like that," she said.

In an email, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said while cruisers regularly patrol the highway, "we do not have the authority to randomly search vehicles for alcohol quantities."

Tobin would prefer to see the provincial government catch up to Quebec prices in order to make convenience stores like her's more competitive.

"If the government could match the price to Fermont, or even bring it down close to what Fermont's prices are, it would certainly help. People would think twice about spending the difference in what it's going to cost them in gas to go up there."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Labrador Morning