Attorney General Suzanne Anton has come under fire from a liquor-industry group for claiming that suppliers of alcohol are "raising their prices unnecessarily" to coincide with April 1 liquor reforms.
The Import Vintners & Spirits Association says this statement was "patently false".
"Anton is just saying what [Liquor Distribution Branch general manager] Blain Lawson is telling her," IVSA executive director Richard Loewen told the Georgia Straight by phone.
He emphasized that Anton's suggestion that suppliers want to "take advantage of the moment" overlooks the impact that a falling dollar has had on liquor importers.
The IVSA does not dispute that prices will rise in some cases when the government's new wholesale-pricing model takes effect next month.
However, the IVSA maintained that these increases are due to a range of factors in addition to a falling dollar. That includes climate, crop volume, prices set by wineries, and the price of oil.
Anton, however, stuck to her position when she spoke to the Straight after the ISVA issued a news release to "refute" her assertion.
She said in the "majority of cases", suppliers are not taking advantage of the reforms to jack up prices.
"But in some case, it is the case that there are changes that are being unnecessarily made," Anton claimed.
She acknowledged that it has been "Blain's [Lawson] observation" that some price changes cannot be attributed to a falling dollar or normal fluctuations in the market.
"It's a limited number—83 percent, he says—are the same or lower," Anton stated. "But there are some that are unnecessarily high and it is his belief they are being marked up to hide behind government changes on the 1st of April."
Anton originally made the claim in the legislature on March 10 after NDP MLA David Eby asked why 5,300 products will be more expensive when the government's new wholesale-pricing model takes effect next month.
In the meantime, the government has not told suppliers how much it plans to mark up their products in its stores.
The IVSA claimed that there was no consultation with the import industry or resellers in the development of a wholesale-price model.
When the Straight raised this point with Anton, she replied: "You would have to talk to the guys at the Liquor Distribution Branch on that one."
Loewen said that his members would have preferred a wholesale price with a flat tax—similar to how liquor is sold in Alberta—to offer more predictability to suppliers.
"They chose to go with the wholesale price where they moved all of the funding that goes to Victoria into their wholesale side of things, and run their stores at a break-even," he said.
Anton told the Straight that the B.C. government's approach is a better model for our province.
"The big policy change for government is that we're actually separating now our distribution and our retail," Anton said. "And so our retailers will be buying at the same price as the private stores are, as the independent wine stores are, as the rural-agency stores are. They're all paying the same price now. They will set their own retail prices."