Opinions

Brewing change

Moving the focus to Alberta’s breweries

The price of beer has gone up, but don't let that stop you. (Photo by Parker Crook/SAIT Polytechnic)

The price of beer has gone up, but don’t let that stop you. (Photo by Parker Crook/SAIT Polytechnic)

Rachel Notley. Alberta New Democratic Party. Depending where your political ideologies lie, there may be a sour taste in your mouth after reading those words.

It’s no secret that Notley’s NDP has experienced turbulence since Alberta voted them in during the May 2015 election, with some going as far as blaming Notley for the entirety of the province’s current recession.

And, yet again, they’re under scrutiny from the right wing, although this time, it’s about beer.

In October 2015, the NDP released their budget, which included many carefully worded plans of action for numerous sectors of Alberta’s economy. And one of the aforementioned plans has recently come to fruition.

As of Aug. 5, there is a flat increase of $1.25 per litre of beer sold in the province regardless of production quantities for the delicious, golden liquid.

In a press release on their website, dated July 28, the Alberta Small Brewers Association (ASBA) vocalized its support for the increased taxation on beer and the grant program for small brewers that follows.

“In a Canadian system in which Alberta is the only province that allows the free-flow of beer across provincial borders, a government program to ensure the continued growth and development of the local industry is welcomed,” the release states.

According to Jim Button, co-founder of Village Brewery in Calgary, Alberta beer enthusiasts have a serious volume of choice because of the aforementioned open market, but we do not have a comparable local beer scene to other provinces.

“Unfortunately, based on the trade laws, [the tax hike and grant] is one of the only ways they have the capacity to build the market. Has it been fully flushed out? No. Are they working on that? I’m assuming they are,” said Button.

Alberta’s grant program for small brewers will be based on the amount of beer produced by the brewery, said Kelti Boissonneault, co-founder of Theoretically Brewing in Lethbridge.

The grant program will be available for 10 years, and is capped at $12 million annually.

“To help a fledgling industry get on its feet, this is an excellent solution from the brewer’s perspective,” said Boissonneault.

“All the recent changes have, from a brewer’s and a drinker’s point of view, been in favour of creating a more responsible liquor industry in Alberta, but there is still a long way to go.”

Think of the brewers’ grant as you would the student grants you hope to receive during your time at SAIT. You are being invested in now so you can turn around and benefit the community.

So if the tax hike goes hand-in-hand with a grant intended to provide a boon in provincial breweries, and in turn stimulate the provincial economy, maybe it isn’t such a bad idea after all.

“It’s been proven that local beer puts seven times more back into the community so that part is a slam dunk,” said Button.

It’s also important to remember that, regardless of economic situations, people drink.

Post-secondary students are the perfect example. They generally have a minuscule budget, yet they still party. Just go to the Gateway on any Friday after class and see for yourself.

And while you’re out, instead of knocking back an imported brew after a long week of studies, you should opt for your favourite Alberta brewed craft instead.

“It’s imperative to support local,” said Button.

According to an article by CBC in January 2016, alcohol sales by volume in Alberta have continued to grow over the past five years despite the economic downturn, though not because of it. While this is largely due to an increase in the province’s population, what the statistics suggest is that alcohol consumption is not severely dampened by economic turmoil.

And that’s all peachy news for the tax hike and grant. But there have been rumblings in other provinces about how Alberta’s tax hike will cause a rift in a time when interprovincial trade is on the tip of every politician’s tongue.

The idea behind the opposition in other provinces is simple. More taxes equal more expensive brew, which they fear will hurt their sales in Alberta’s previously open market.

It may not come as a surprise that Jason Kenney, who is campaigning to “unite the right” in Alberta, is against the NDP’s new brew policy.

According to his website, www.jasonkenney.ca, Kenney said the NDP is attempting to repair a system that isn’t flawed, and that the craft beer industry in Alberta was booming under the old beer taxation laws.

And, he isn’t wrong, craft beer in Alberta was doing fine. Calgary is host to numerous locally owned and operated breweries and brewpubs. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.

The NDP isn’t attempting to cause a rift between Alberta and the rest of Canada, but rather encourage us to drink Albertan beer by making it easier for our breweries to distribute their product in our province.

So will this tax hike and grant fix all of the issues surrounding alcohol in Alberta? No. But it certainly is a start.

And, at the end of the day, it isn’t Notley’s job to decide what’s best for breweries in other parts of the country. It’s her job to do what is best for Alberta, and what will hopefully help to bring us out of this ghastly recession.

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