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Wildrose Could Kill Fake "Canadian" Beer Company's Tax Subsidies

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With the Wildrose Alliance Party of Alberta surging in the polls, the tax subsidy party might just be coming to an end for Minhas Craft Brewery -- Alberta's "fake" Canadian beer company.

Minhas Craft Brewery thrives on a PR strategy in which it positions itself as a hometown David going up against a pair of ruthless, foreign-owned Goliaths in the form of Labatt and Molson.

Indeed, company co-owner Ravinder Minhas loves to play the victim card. And why not? By doing so, he receives a tax subsidy under Alberta's deeply flawed small brewer tax program. In 2010, that subsidy amounted to $5.6 million.

The program was meant to usher in an environment that allows for local craft breweries to flourish; alas, the precise opposite has occurred.

However, while Ravinder Minhas likes to position himself as the nitty-gritty all-Canadian little guy taking on the big bad world, the reality is something else entirely.

For starters, as previously reported here, all the Minhas brewing jobs are actually located in Monroe, Wisconsin. That wouldn't be so bad if not for the fact that Minhas has its beer taxed at a lower rate than the big breweries (which actually employ Canadians.) Translation: The Alberta government is essentially subsidizing U.S. brewing jobs with taxpayer money.

It also turns out that all of Minhas's trademarks are registered to a Barbados-based company; Minhas is apparently funneling all his profits from the Alberta tax subsidy into an offshore tax-sheltered haven.

The bottom line? Minhas beer is brewed in the U.S., subsidized in Alberta, and sheltered from taxes in Barbados. Some local hero. And so much for Ravinder wrapping himself in the Canadian flag.

However, the Minhas' business plan -- i.e., its reliance on Alberta tax subsidies -- has hit a snag. Based on his overall beverage production (which includes beer, soft drinks and spirits), Minhas is very likely over the 400,000-hectolitre limit. If so, according to the regulations, Minhas no longer qualifies for Alberta small brewer subsidies.

But wait -- there's more! Inexplicably, Minhas has apparently declared war on all Canadian brewers, both big and small, thanks to the company's stunning multimedia attack on refillable glass beer bottles.

"Did you know that dirty beer bottles are washed and reused up to 16 times and cans are better for the environment?" asks co-owner Manjit Minhas in a 30-second TV ad, standing next to a putrid beer bottle that seems to have been excavated from swampland.

Predictably, other brewers are furious with the inexplicable fear-mongering tactics. First, contrary to Manjit's rant, aluminum beer cans -- which are recycled, not reused -- are NOT better for the environment compared to refillable glass bottles. And it is dumb beyond belief that she'd label the beer bottles as "dirty" given that before refilling, all bottles are thoroughly washed and inspected.

The fact that these containers are reused 16 times is what makes a refillable bottle far more environmentally-friendly than a single-use can.

But the party may be coming to an end for Minhas. Visiting Calgary earlier this month, I had the opportunity to chat with Danielle Smith, the leader of the Wildrose Party (and, if the polls are to be believed, the next premier of Alberta.) She was appalled that Albertan taxpayer dollars are going toward American brewery jobs. And Smith pondered how many other questionable subsidized programs are being maintained by the PCs in the province. (Let's put it this way, Smith: you have some serious housecleaning awaiting...)

In the meantime, Minhas has been providing beer for events run by the Conservative-in-name-only PC party. Sorry, Ravinder. Looks like you're backing the wrong horse this time. And here's hoping that when regime change does arrive in Alberta come Monday evening, the taps will soon be turned off when it comes to subsidies being poured into a brewery that is Canadian-in-name-only.