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Governments are facing challenging fiscal situations world-wide. As a result of mounting economic pressures, governments across North America appear to be looking to liquor and wine taxation as a source of increased revenue. In April, Alberta raised its provincial markups (hidden taxes) on all forms of liquor. The U.S. federal government is exploring the idea of taxes on wine, liquor and sugary soft drinks. California has debated this issue prior to almost every state budget recently. And the latest salvo comes from New Jersey where that state is proposing to increase liquor taxes by about 25%.

Which of course brings us to BC and the newly re-elected Liberal government. Unfortunately for the Liberals, there is basically no room for increasing revenue within the current system. BC already has the highest wine taxes and prices in North America and the highest in the world in any significant wine producing region. Liquor sales in BC were down significantly by both volume and price in the last quarter. That trend is excessive compared to other neighbouring jurisdictions and could be a harbinger of growing problems of evasion for an uncompetitive system.

In my view, the government should be taking a serious look at overhauling the current system so that we can have a liquor distribution and revenue structure worthy of the 21st century. Here's some food for thought: the Alberta and BC governments generated almost exactly the same amount of per capita revenue from liquor even though the Alberta system is privatized and has lower prices. And that was BEFORE the recent increase in Alberta markups. Maybe BC should consider systemic reform if it wants to maintain or increase its liquor revenue.