OTTAWA - Ontario's liquor board has sweetened an already sweet deal for the federal government and foreign diplomats as it chops the prices they pay for beer, wine and booze almost in half.
Late last month, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario began offering its products to federal departments and agencies at a 49 per cent discount from the retail price that everyone else pays.
The cut rate on alcoholic beverages is also available to foreign embassies, high commissions, consulates and trade missions, most of whom are located in the Ottawa area, within the LCBO's jurisdiction.
And the favoured buyers will be exempt from an LCBO policy dating from 2001 that sets minimum prices for products, under its "social responsibility" mandate.
The new pricing, approved by the board of directors on April 25 this year, replaces an older, more complex discount formula that was based on the individual cost of products.
The now-uniform 49 per cent discount is applied to the basic retail price, but before HST.
A case of imported wine, which currently costs consumers $203.18, is now priced at $104.80 for this special group, including HST and bottle deposit. Under the old discount, embassies and others had paid $131.27 — for an extra savings of $26.47.
Imported non-U.S. beer is similarly cheaper, at $28.68 a case versus $42.56 under the old discount. Ontarians currently pay full price at $53.93.
Ontario wine has also become cheaper, though imported booze will go up in price, to $175.63 a case from $143.91, compared with the $342.07 everyone else pays.
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According to a recent CAMH study on unhealthy drinking statistics worldwide, the world's heaviest drinkers live in Europe and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.
When it comes to unhealthy alcohol consumption, people in Eastern Europe and Southern Sub-Saharan Africa topped the list. People who live in these regions frequently consume large quantities of booze, drink to get intoxicated, engage in binge drinking, and consume alcohol without meals, according to CAMH.
According to the World Health Organization's (WHO) 2011 report on alcohol consumption around the world, alcohol abuse causes 2.5 million deaths each year.
Approximately 320,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 29 die from alcohol-related causes each year, according to the WHO.
Alcohol is now the third leading cause of the global burden of diseases and injuries, and in 2010, drinking booze had been linked to 200 different diseases and injuries, according to CAMH.
People in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia consumed the least amount of alcohol, according to CAMH.
Canadians consume more alcohol than the global average. People across North America are more likely to have detrimental drinking patterns and binge drink, according to CAMH.
Excessive alcohol consumption often weakens the immune system, according to the WHO. Harmful alcohol abuse has also been linked to several diseases like HIV/AIDS, STIs and tuberculosis.
Turns out Canadians in general prefer a pint of beer. About 53 per cent of alcohol consumption in Canada is beer, 27 per cent is spirits and 20 per cent is wine, according to the WHO.
In Canada, the highest causes of death linked with alcohol include liver cirrhosis (poor liver function) and road traffic accidents, according to the WHO.
The federal government and diplomats can take advantage of the cheaper prices only by placing orders through the agency's private ordering department, rather than purchasing directly at retail outlets.
LCBO spokeswoman Heather MacGregor said the discount policy was changed as the agency moved to an automated sales system from a manual version previously used for private orders.
"This was an internal recommendation to improve systems controls, sales reporting and monitoring of embassy sales," she said in an email.
"A new, more simplified pricing formula, based on a discount from the retail price, had to be developed because the old pricing formula could not be accommodated with the LCBO's existing POS (point-of-sale) system."
The agency sells about 20,000 cases a year under these deep-discount rules, she added, or less than $1 million in sales annually.
"More than 90 per cent of the products ordered are imports," MacGregor added.
The agency was not able to cite the historic value of sales to the federal government, but said there were none in 2012-2013, the year before the new discount pricing began.
The Canadian Press obtained details of the discount policy change under Ontario's freedom-of-information law.
The LCBO also allows deep discounts on sacramental wine purchased by bona fide religious groups.
Federal policy imposes limits on the purchase of alcoholic beverages with taxpayer dollars, forbidding such hospitality at events attended only by public servants, for example.
And hospitality events at which alcoholic beverages will be served, such as for visiting diplomats, must be pre-approved by ministers or senior officials.
The Bank of Canada in May this year spent $30,000 on several farewell bashes for outgoing governor Mark Carney, which included fine wines.
Last month, an economist at the University of Waterloo released a study suggesting LCBO retail prices would be reduced if the province allowed more competition from private operators.
And in a 2011, Ontario's auditor said the price of alcohol is too high in the province, and that LCBO revenues were not being maximized.
The agency said last month it generated record sales in 2011-12, the last year for which figures are available, providing $1.7 billion for the Ontario treasury.