When the Georgia Straight was preparing a December cover story on the government's plan to jack up wine prices, Justice Minister Suzanne Anton refused to be interviewed.
Instead, a ministry publicist emailed a statement insisting that the government's wholesale pricing model is "not about changing prices for consumers".
The statement, which was attributed to Anton, also declared that the model "was designed to collect approximately the same amount of revenue for government from each product category as exists today".
Those claims were ridiculed by experts in the wine industry, including Marquis Wine Cellars owner John Clerides, who predicted it would lead to job losses.
Today, Anton announced that the government's wholesale price markup is being reduced "to better align wholesale prices with what industry sees today".
In other words, the earlier wholesale-price model touted by the minister was not going to be revenue-neutral for the government.
Under the original plan, the base markup of 89 percent for the first $11.75 per litre would be followed with a second-tier markup of 67 percent on the amount above $11.75.
Now, as a result of the amendment, the second-tier markup falls to 27 percent.
This means that under the government's old policy, a $20 bottle of wine sold to the Liquor Distribution Branch would have been resold to retailers at $35.98.
With today's announcement, that same $20 bottle of wine bought by the LDB would be sold to retailers for $32.84. That's a reduction of nine percent. The percentage price drop will be greater as the wholesale price rises.
“With projects as large as the revamping of B.C.’s wholesale model for liquor, there are bound to be a few course corrections along the way," Anton said in the B.C. government news release. "We announced our wholesale pricing model in November because we wanted to provide industry with as much notice as we could, while still allowing time to make adjustments, as necessary, before the go-live date on April 1."
Wine-industry lawyer Mark Hicken told the Straight by phone that the reduction of 67 percent to 27 percent on the second tier is a "huge improvement on the previous formula".
"Under the old model, it just didn't work because the prices were going to have to go up too much," Hicken said. "I think that [the revised model] will maintain a sort of status quo situation. So I think it will work for the private retailers."
The B.C. NDP critic on liquor policy, David Eby, said in a news release that the government scaled back the wholesale price as a result of an "outcry from British Columbians, restaurant owners, and small business owners".
“There’s a reason this announcement came out on a Friday, and on the same day as the Mount Polley report was released," Eby said in the news release. "The Liberals hope nobody notices that their liquor law reform to date has been a continuing disaster. So far it has achieved nothing but price hikes for consumers, and big hits for small, family-owned businesses, and restaurants. No wonder they’re backing off.”
Anton's announcement didn't deal with another issue facing the government: rising anger from California wineries that Premier Christy Clark is favouring B.C. wine producers by reserving shelf space for their products in grocery stores.
Clark is the B.C. Liberal MLA for Westside-Kelowna, which is home to several large wineries.