Saskatchewan

Will changes to liquor retailing in Sask. lead to lower prices?

As Saskatchewan people debate the future of liquor retailing in the province, some customers may be hoping that any change brings with it lower prices. But the government says that mark-up is where it makes its money.

Minister likes current mark-up on more expensive liquor

The provincial government is considering a change in the way it sells liquor, but not the way liquor is taxed. (CBC)

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  • Minimum prices designed to reduce social harm
  • $252 million government profit on liquor

As Saskatchewan people debate the future of liquor retailing in the province, some customers may be hoping that any change brings with it lower prices.

The minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming authority, Don McMorris, said while different retail options are being considered, the government is less keen to change the mark-up now included in the wholesale price of alcohol.

In Alberta, alcohol is marked up at a flat rate regardless of price, whereas Saskatchewan and most other provinces use a percentage based mark-up. The difference is seen most acutely on higher-end booze.

Scotch pricing comparison

"There is a high-priced bottle of scotch that you'll buy for a lot less in Alberta," McMorris admitted, but to do otherwise would be "unfair," he said.

"I mean, as I said, you could have a very expensive bottle of scotch and a very inexpensive bottle of rye and [they] might both have a $3 mark-up. That doesn't equate, I mean I would think the very expensive bottle should have a higher mark-up," McMorris said.

There are 75 government-owned liquor stores in Saskatchewan, but some or all of them could be privatized depending on the results of a review. (Neil Cochrane/CBC)

The opposition is not convinced.

"I like scotch and I know that I pay a lot more for my scotch here than we see in Alberta," said NDP MLA Cathy Sproule. "So I think there are ways to make a more responsive pricing system to deal with those kinds of high-end issues."

Sproule said in a publicly-owned system, the government would have more flexibility to lower the price of higher-priced items and make it up on other products.

The Saskatchewan government doesn't plan to build any new liquor stores, but officials hope more revenue can be generated. (Neil Cochrane/CBC)

Minimum prices

Saskatchewan also has minimum prices in effect, in an attempt to reduce the social harm of cheap booze with a high alcohol content. McMorris says the government is unlikely to change that minimum pricing either, but is open to hearing arguments. 

Whatever changes are made, it will be difficult for any government to turn off the spigot of money raised from the sale of liquor. The government took in $632.3 million during 2013-14 in gross sales, $252.3 million of which was profit.

McMorris said the government would like to maintain that revenue, or even increase it in the future.

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