Modernizing Liquor Laws Overdue – Scotch Whisky Red Tape

Modernizing liquor laws overdue

By James Romanow

I am currently trying to organize a scotch tasting to be held in Saskatoon.

I want a specific set of scotch served to illustrate the regional characteristics of single malts.

I was asked to do this in seven weeks. That’s about how long it takes to set up and manufacture a new cellphone design. In the liquor business in Saskatchewan, seven weeks is a back-breaking deadline.

Among the hurdles needing to be cleared are:

. It’s illegal for a venue to serve liquor it doesn’t purchase itself, so a new, separate liquor licence is required. Because the hotel fears for its licence and profit margin, the event must be carefully negotiated, requiring at least four hours of three people’s time.

. The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority’s special order desk is incapable of sourcing, ordering and delivering to me in less than eight weeks 25 bottles of unlisted scotch available in several places across Canada.

. Willow Park, a Regina vendor that actually carries these labels, properly listed under the SLGA system, cannot get the 25 bottles within five weeks because the product must go from the Alberta warehouse to the SLGA warehouse to Willow Park and then to me. This despite Willow Park having all of the inventory in its warehouse in Calgary.

The SLGA has ordered the closure of Saskatoon wine vendor Cava Wines. Cava is accused of buying wine in Alberta for resale in Saskatchewan, and possibly – some of the story is rather murky – for buying wine or wine futures in France.

Our baroque liquor laws are firmly founded on prohibitionism, on the certainty that liquor drinkers are an immoral lot who are always trying to circumvent the law. This legal structure is buttressed by an NDP faith that all jobs should be government jobs, and a spineless government bul lied into submitting to the prohibitionist-NDP axis.

Don’t believe me? Why then are we perfectly content to tax gasoline sold by an entirely private network of distributors and vendors, but are compelled to sell all alcoholic products via a single government importing agency? Oh, and virtually all “imports” come from notoriously sinful places such as Edmonton.

If all we want is the income to run our government, sales taxes will do the job. If our goal is maximizing government taxes, then we want as many vendors and distributors as possible. We do not have either, so I assume we want something else.

I am hard pressed to imagine what else that could be, except the selfrighteous glow that comes from burning witches and punishing sinners.

The SLGA warehouse is set up to handle 700,000 cases annually, but actually must deal with 2.1 million. In June 2008 I suggested to then-SLGA minister Dan D’Autremont that the government privatize the warehouse. He said it was impossible because “you need bonded warehouses.”

A new warehouse is now planned. It has yet to be built or opened. This is called moving at the speed of government.

Now the SLGA is apparently claiming the right to sell French wine futures, always a favourite procurement channel for rubbies and other alcoholics.

That’s not covered by existing legislation. However, to win that right, Cava Wines will probably have to litigate to at least one appellate level.

If I buy wine in France I can import it, as long as I pay the appropriate taxes at the border. “Aha!” the supporters of the current system say. “You’d just sneak across the border to buy it from those dissolute Albertans.” Unfortunately this is already happening.

Any number of my readers have told me of the joys of loading up the minivan at the Edmonton SuperStore.

Anyone should be able to set up a business selling wine futures. They are selling a financial product, not liquor. Anyone should be able to organize wine tastings without having to worry about what wines are carried at any venues, or by which vendors.

You don’t need to privatize the SLGA. The government can maintain as many stores as it and we wish to have. Remember us? We’re the voters.

This is our problem. All the government needs to do is draft legislation that includes a clause that allows bypassing the SLGA warehouse.

The government failed to do so in 2008 because it was and is terrified of attempting to bring the liquor laws into the 21st century. The Calvinists and voters afraid of change have won. What the neo-prohibitionist ideologues have done is to partially fund Alberta health care. They also made events such as beer, wine and scotch tastings difficult, expensive and rarer than need be.

Three cheers and goodbye, Cava Wines. It was fun while it lasted.

© James Romanow  All rights reserved. No re-publication without express permission by the owner. This article is reproduced here with the express permission of the author. Please visit his blog at www.drbooze.com Romanow is a Saskatoon based freelancer who writes a regular column on wine for The StarPhoenix.

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