CALGARY — Alberta's small beer brewers will get up to $20 million a year in grants, helping to offset a looming hike in the markup on all beer sold in the province.
Finance Minister Joe Ceci said Thursday the goal is to level the industry playing field, help grow Alberta's industry and create jobs.
"Alberta's craft brewing industry is an important part of a more diversified, more resilient economy for all Albertans,'' Ceci told reporters at a news conference at a local craft brewer.
"With 37 craft brewers and counting, our government knows that we all benefit with great local products.''
Sliding scale grant
Under the program, brewers who produce less than 30 million litres per year will get money on a sliding scale based on their sales.
Ceci said the most any brewer can make under the plan is $12 million.
The program is beginning immediately and application forms are already available, he said.
The change will come after the markup on beer is raised to $1.25 a litre on Aug. 5 for all beer sold in Alberta, regardless of where it is made.
Beer vats stand at the Tool Shed Brewing Company in Calgary, Alta. (Photo: Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Previously, Alberta brewers paid less on the markup, with a sliding scale starting at as low as 10 cents a litre. Brewers in Saskatchewan and B.C. got the same deal under the free trade New West Partnership Agreement.
Ceci announced the hike on July 12, promising at that time a grant program to assist provincial brewers.
Saskatchewan complained about the change, saying it violates the spirit of the New West Partnership free trade deal. It has threatened to impose retaliatory measures.
However, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has said the brewery rules are already rife with exemptions and unfair provisions, adding she will do whatever is necessary to grow the industry in Alberta.
Alberta's open beer market
Alberta has the most open beer market in Canada, with sellers simply having to fill out a form to sell. Access to shelves in other provinces is controlled by liquor boards.
Terry Rock, head of the Alberta Small Brewers Association, said changes remove impediments to industry growth.
"We think with today's announcement we're going to catch up and we're going to accelerate,'' said Rock.
Rock said a craft beer operation creates seven to 10 times more jobs compared with a macro-beer producer.
"We think with today's announcement we're going to catch up and we're going to accelerate."
The Opposition Wildrose party said the NDP has the right idea to grow the industry but is taking the wrong approach.
"Wildrose believes in a free and open market, and the fact that Albertans know a good product when they see it,'' said Wildrose Leader Brian Jean.
"I have full confidence that the great Albertan small and medium-sized breweries can continue to compete with other beers from across the country without the government having to pick winners and losers.''
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Here are some of the highlights of the Alberta 2016-17 budget. Story here: http://huff.to/1Nr7xhN
Revenue is pegged at $41.4 billion against $51.1 billion in spending. Projected revenue is down, as benchmark West Texas Intermediate oil is expected to average US$42 a barrel. If oil prices drop to $30 a barrel, the government plans to add a $700-million buffer.
Province is amalgamating 26 agencies, boards and commissions to save $33 million. Salaries and supplies for government will be cut by 2 per cent.
The only new tax is a carbon tax, that will cost households earning more than $100,00 a year about $500 annually. The new tax is part of the province's new climate change plan.
The province has created two new tax credits to encourage investment in small- and medium-sized businesses. Small-business tax will be cut to two per cent.
The government says its spending on employment incentives and capital will create about 100,000 jobs in Alberta over the next three years.