POLITICS

Manitoba town may slap extra tax on alcohol to help pay for police

11/09/2012 02:18 EST | Updated 01/09/2013 05:12 EST
WINNIPEG - Town councillors in Swan River, Manitoba are eyeing a unique approach to solving the funding crunch facing many municipalities — a three per cent municipal tax on all alcohol sold within town limits.

The idea is to raise money from booze to pay for policing the crimes and traffic violations that sometimes result from drinking.

"Even people who enjoy alcohol would have a hard time denying that alcohol probably is a contributing factor in a number of crimes that are committed," said Jason Delaurier, the town councillor behind the plan.

He is proposing it as a bylaw to be considered at the council's next meeting on Nov. 20.

"Our (police) budget is nearing 20 per cent of our total expenditures, so I think we need to look for other ways to pay for it other than relying on the property taxpayer."

Swan River, a community of 3,900 near the Saskatchewan boundary, pays almost $900,000 a year for RCMP services. While other Manitoba municipalities charge levies on hotel accommodations, energy bills, concert tickets and other items, none of them charges a tax on liquor.

Delaurier says he doesn't know how much support he has on council, but the idea has gone over fairly well with citizens.

"Some have commented off the cuff, 'Are you going to tax broccoli?' ... But once I explain the rationale behind it, most people are supportive."

Even if council votes to adopt the tax, it would still require approval from the provincial government. The NDP rejected a similar proposal from the City of Thompson in 2008.

Premier Greg Selinger, who had not seen the Swan River proposal Friday, said the Thompson tax was rejected in part because of a desire to ensure that alcohol profits pay for provincial programs.

"We didn't want to have differential rates for alcohol across the province. It's a uniform rate," Selinger said.

"And we wanted to ensure that any profits that came out of that would benefit all Manitobans for things like health care, education and other key investments at the provincial level, like infrastructure."

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation panned the booze tax proposal, arguing cities and towns should cut spending instead of looking for more money.

"Councils need to do more heavy lifting to look at ways of becoming more efficient. They should be looking at things like contracting out to save money," spokesman Colin Craig said.

The booze tax is one of several new local levies that have been floated by municipalities across Canada. Some municipal leaders in other provinces have been pushing the federal government to

slap a one per cent tax over and above the GST to pay for infrastructure work.

In Manitoba, delegates to the annual Association of Manitoba Municipalities conference later this month will debate the idea of pushing the provincial government to add a two per cent handling fee on school taxes.

Delaurier remains hopeful the province will warm to the alcohol tax.

"I haven't talked to anybody in government yet, but part of me thinks there must be somebody there who would encourage us," he said.

"Somebody's got to be the first one to be able to use this mechanism, so why not us?"