"Wine cops that feel no love"

More consternation on the wine-shopping front in Quebec. As Vin Québec explains, La Presse has dug up more potentially damning pricing policies at the SAQ liquor corporation: "Specialty" wines are to get priced under a policy of artificial inflation. As a result, people are questioning -- if they hadn't already started -- the ability of SAQ administators to serve the public.

Marc André Gagnon holds up the LCBO, another crown corporation from bordering Ontario, as a yardstick that should force the SAQ to seriously look at list prices on everyday wine items, especially in light of its formidable purchasing power on world markets. (Translated version of his article, funnily translated here.)

Making the LCBO the angel is not going to make privatization of liquor sales any less appetizing to Quebec consumers. For the last few weeks, every new SAQ development has prompted very vocal reaction from Mario Dumont's right-leaning ADQ party. Here is today's case in point.

As far as I am concerned this scandal is over. The SAQ has been revealed as corrupt. What appears to be beginning now is the transformation of this story from a news one to an entirely political one. The ADQ, perhaps the most powerful supporters of privatizing the SAQ, will be incessantly carrying this story now.

A look back at December 3, 2005, three and a half weeks before the SAQ scandal first broke. It turned out that tax, though indeed higher in Quebec than elsewhere, would obviously not be the "whipping boy" of people's complaints. The price-fixing and kickback scheme would have that covered. Will the real whipping boy soon become government-run corporations in and of themselves?

So, to again pose the question: How far does your wine budget go? Well, the way I see it now, if Quebec's strong wine selection, which benefits from specialty items, does get inflated by 25%, the SAQ will be driving people's wine budget very far -- far beyond Hull and into Ontario. Life as a cross-border shopper will begin.


Tim Jacobs said...

Wine-life won't be much better in Ontario, as I see it. All provincial liquor control boards are about the same.

Sure, the LCBO is easily the fanciest unit in the country with their newly renovated showrooms. And they are stunningly sharp--but at what cost? The LCBO loses money every year. The annual "dividend" that they hand over to the provincial government is simply the taxes they've collected from alcohol sales.

The bottom line for me is that the government has no business in the wine cabinets of the people. They have no business retailing liquor. Nor do they have any business selecting your consumer choices.

It's high time that the rest of the country followed the Alberta example where that province has fully privatized. This is not to say that they don't supervise alcohol retailing (they watch it very closely); they just don't retail it anymore. They leave that to market professionals. Oh, and by the way, it turns out that the Alberta gov has realized far more in tax revenues as a consequence of privatization than when they ran the liquor show.

Thanks for the continued updates on the chaos at the SAQ. Here in BC we've partly privatized and have this weird mixture of private and government stores that, admittedly, I like so far.

g58 said...

I really appreciate your comments. It's interesting to hear what wine lovers across the country think. Here in Quebec, Michel Phaneuf, a major authority on wine has now sounded off too (which is bit intriguing since SAQ stores had a special promotion on his recently released guide to wine). His essay is in French: www.lactualite.com/economie/