THE BLOG
07/09/2014 05:03 EDT | Updated 09/08/2014 05:59 EDT

Why Is B.C. Liquor Still Overtaxed, Despite 'Reforms'?

Earlier this year, two brides-to-be from Prince George -- to protect their identities, we'll call them Thelma and Louise -- made a run for the Alberta border and cheaper liquor.

Thelma and Louise are each getting married this summer, and both weddings are set to be huge bashes, with hundreds of guests coming from across Canada. To save money, the brides borrowed a van and drove east. Nine hours later, they were in an Edmonton Costco, purchasing many cases of beer, wine, and spirits.

The pair loaded the van all the way to the roof. It was so heavy, the vehicle sagged on its suspension as the women drove back to Prince George, past the unsuspecting wildlife in Jasper National Park. Careful not to speed, the brides managed to avoid any attention from the RCMP. "Not sure what they would have thought if they had caught us," laughed Thelma.

Even with the cost of gas and a day off work, the total estimated savings for each bride: close to $1,500. "Or a good start on a pretty nice honeymoon," joked Louise.

Thelma and Louise aren't the only British Columbians looking east for cheaper alcohol, where Alberta's lower liquor taxes help keep prices down.

Take a $15 bottle of wine, for example. In B.C., we pay $7.11 for the Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) markup tax, 60 cents in other LDB fees, and 94 cents in Provincial Sales Tax -- a total of $8.65 in taxes. That means when British Columbians buy a bottle of wine, they actually pay more in taxes and markup than for the actual drink itself.

In Alberta, a $15 bottle of wine faces only $3.45 in provincial taxes and government markup, meaning you get a lot better wine for your $15 in Edmonton and Calgary than in Enderby and Coquitlam.

WineMarketing.ca offers a B.C. tax calculator that allows British Columbians to put in the B.C. Liquor Store cost of a bottle of wine and see how much they're paying in taxes. A nice, $50 bottle of wine, for example, is 68 per cent taxes and markup.

Despite the higher taxes and prices, the B.C. government's recent announcement of 73 potential liquor reforms fails to offer a single nickel of tax relief to consumers.

Worse, it entrenches policies like minimum prices, a favorite hammer of the B.C. government. Minimum prices schemes have made the province's much-ballyhooed happy hour rollout a failure by artificially forcing beer and wine prices up again.

Things could get even worse. Wildly exceeding its legislated responsibilities and taxing abilities, the City of Victoria is now trying to add their own nickel-per-drink tax.

This would set a frightening precedent: imagine every city across B.C. slapping local taxes on your beer and wine. And if you think that tax would hold steady at a nickel per drink, ask yourself this: how often do local governments cut taxes? How often do they raise them? We all know which way this would lean.

So British Columbians keep paying more than we should be at the liquor store, at the pub, and during happy hour.

As the movie version of Thelma and Louise famously said, "You get what you settle for." If British Columbians want to quit overpaying for a cold one, we have to quit settling for the government treating us like children and over-taxing our drinks.