Excerpted article BY MICHAEL PLATT, CALGARY SUN
The plummeting price of one liquid, versus the soaring cost of another.
That’s the story of Alberta, as 2016 begins: oil at a pitiful low, and the price of liquor once again leading the rest of Canada.
It’s the same for wine, beer and spirits — and it seems no matter what was compared at liquor stores across the country, Albertans are paying top dollar to imbibe, at a time when more citizens than ever are trying to save a buck on booze.
“Business was slow over Christmas in terms of special events and parties, but retail sales are up,” said John Dong, owner of Royal Liquor Merchants in Calgary.
“People are still drinking, but they’re finding it cheaper to drink at home.”
Relatively speaking, that is. When it comes to alcohol, Alberta is anything but cheap.
The science of this survey, as it goes, is unscientifically simple.
Check the same product at liquor outlets across Canada, and see who pays the most — and in Alberta, that means an average price gleaned from a handful of typical neighbourhood liquor outlets in Calgary and Edmonton, without accounting for specials and sales.
A dozen Molson Canadian bottles, for example, averages out to $29.54 in Alberta — as compared to $26.75 in neighbouring Saskatchewan, and $24.95 in the Yukon, with all taxes included.
If those prices seem in the same ballpark, consider that Saskatchewan and Yukon are the runners-up in this unfortunate race, and the real comparison is with Canada’s cheapest purveyors of plonk — which in the case of Canadian, is Quebec at $19.53, and New Brunswick at $21.99.
That means Albertans are paying $7.55 more per case than their cousins back in Oromocto, and Dong says we better get used to it.
“Prices will keep going up — they took a jump in October, thanks to the NDP, and now the U.S. dollar is making everything more expensive,” said Dong.
“You can expect prices will go up by another 10 to 20% over the next couple of months.”
Save the tears — it isn’t just beer.
In Alberta, prices are set by the government and the warehouses supplying the booze, before the bottle ever reaches the merchant.
By the time the private corner liquor store places the product on the shelf, at a price that still allows for a profit, that same hooch has already been hiked to account for insurance, marketing, transportation and warehouse profit, plus federal taxes and a generous provincial mark-up as well.
Over the years, the combination has pushed Alberta’s private liquor system to among the most expensive in Canada — and now, in the midst of a serious recession, we are paying the most in the country to have a drink.
Spirits are supposed to be high, but in Alberta’s case, it’s getting ridiculous.
Crown Royal, a typical high-proof tipple, is selling for $35.20 here in Alberta, as compared to $26.87 in B.C., and an enviable $25.60 in the Yukon.
Only Newfoundland, at $30.28 for the same 750-ml bottle, comes close to the king’s ransom Alberta is charging for Crown Royal.
And then there’s wine.
The obvious pun is too obvious, but you can’t blame Albertans when a bottle of Mission Hill Five Vineyards Cabernet/Merlot is squeezing wallets in this province to the tune of $21.90, when Manitoba pays but $19.20 for the same grapes, and Ontario can purchase a bottle for $19.15.
It’s some solace that Alberta actually isn’t the most expensive, with the Yukon charging $22.72 — but Alberta does nearly tie with the top provinces, with Nova Scotia and PEI selling the Mission Hill wine for $21.99.
That’s a whole nine-cent savings for Albertans on wine, otherwise the trifecta of top provincial booze prices would be complete.
Dong says the high prices in this province have certainly started to wear on Albertans, and he expects the grumbling to grow louder.
“People are not happy about the taxes,” he said.
Booze Prices in Canada, including taxes:
Molson Canadian, 12 bottles:
Crown Royal rye whisky, 750 ml:
Mission Hill-Five Vineyards wine 750ml:
*Northwest Territories prices unavailable; Nunavut subject to liquor restriction