David Eby's criticism of liquor price hikes aimed squarely at Christy Clark's base

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      When the B.C. NDP criticizes the Premier Christy Clark for lagging behind other provinces on the minimum wage, it's preaching to its traditional base.

      And when the B.C. NDP slams the B.C. Liberals for policies that will shatter the province's legislated targets for greenhouse gas emissions and obtains an endorsement from environmentalist Tzeporah Berman, it's extending its appeal to voters who might be considering the Greens.

      But when B.C. NDP candidate David Eby hammers the premier for seriously jacking up the price of beer, wine, and spirits, he's reaching out to those who might vote for the B.C. Liberals.

      In fact, one right-wing politician, Bill Vander Zalm, helped his party retain power by promising to lower the price of beer before the 1986 election.

      Eby hasn't gone that far.

      But he knows that many private liquor store owners and restaurateurs have faced difficult times as a result of two of Clark's liquor "reforms": sharply higher wholesale alcohol prices and new competition from billionaire grocery store barons.

      Eby represented the posh riding of Vancouver-Point Grey before the legislature was dissolved. It's only elected one NDPer since 1996.

      Prices of wine, beer, and spirits have all increased, according to Eby.

      Report highlights price gouging

      To drive home his argument that the government is ripping people off, Eby recently commissioned a report showing that the average price of beer rose 13.3 percent since a new wholesale pricing model was introduced on April 1, 2015.

      Under this reform, the government retained its monopoly on wholesale pricing but permitted full competition between privately and publicly owned retail outlets.

      According to Eby's report, the average wine price was up 11.7 percent. And spirits rose 10.6 percent since April 1, 2015.

      It was based on 156 products in the B.C. Liquor Stores catalogue chosen by a "third party random number generator".

      One beer price was unchanged, two beer prices dropped, and 153 beer prices went up. When it came to beer, price hikes ranged from 0.6 percent to 34 percent.

      The highest wine price increase was 44.6 percent.

      The highest increase in spirits was 64.5 percent.

      "While it is not possible to definitively conclude that the price increases were a direct result of the new liquor pricing model due to the limitations of the methodology discussed below, the analysis suggests that end consumer prices have increased in all categories since the model was introduced," the report states.

      Two of those limitations were that the survey did not take into consideration currency fluctuations or supplier price increases. The report also didn't look at private liquor store prices, which might have been even higher than those in government stores.

      The report notes that the rising prices coincided with a 12 percent increase in liquor revenue pouring into B.C. government coffers.

      But B.C. Liberal politicians have tried to conceal this by no longer including taxes in the sticker price in government stores. This means that when customers go to the till to pay, the cost is significantly higher.

      Imported wines are far more costly in B.C. than in the countries where they were produced.

      Wine was expensive beforehand

      Even before the reforms, B.C. imported wine prices were among the highest in North America.

      Industry experts felt that this has hampered tourism and undermined the province's wine culture.

      The Clark government's revisions imposed some of the largest increases on higher-end bottles. And that didn't play well in the western reaches of Vancouver-Point Grey, where high-end wine is often the beverage of choice.

      Eby's criticism of the beer price increases also strikes a chord with younger voters, who've felt the sting of more expensive craft products.

      And the B.C. NDP needs as many young voters as possible to show up at the polls if it's going to win the May 9 election.

      Higher beer prices just might persuade a few of them to get off the couch and cast ballots.

      So all in all, it was a shrewd political move for Eby to bring this issue forward at this time.

      We'll find out in a week if it might have been one of those decisive late-campaign ploys that makes a difference in a close election.