Is beer, wine and liquor (alcohol) too expensive?

There is a question to be voted on in this blog post. Please go to the right sidebar to vote. Your vote counts.

At Vote Canada we feel that alcoholic beverages, particularly in bars and restaurants, are too expensive in Canada

When a beer in a restaurant is more expensive then the lunch you’ve got to start to wonder.  When 3 beers at an airport hotel sets you back $40 you start to get seriously annoyed.  When a beer enjoyed on the couch is setting you back $2 or more its starting to hit home where we live.  Don’t even get us started on the price of hard liquor… you pretty much need a mortgage to buy a bottle of Scotch.   But the thing that puzzles us is that no one seems to be complaining.

With this in mind we decided to have a quick look at some of the published information regarding drinking alcohol in Canada. There is a lot.

First of all all, a quick search on the Internet reveals that a significant majority of Canadians drink (77%).

Further research reveals a rather large number of organizations that are dedicated to stopping or at least reducing the amount that we drink.   It’s an industry in itself. The published statistics related to the social cost of drinking are in a word, sobering.  Significant percentages of incarcerations, car accidents, injuries and their related justice and medical systems costs are all attributed to alcohol use and abuse.

The Canadian Medical Association tells us that 4 drinks at a sitting for women and 5 drinks for a man is binge drinking.  We are told by the Saskatchewan government that a wide range of horrible things can happen when you binge drink.  Among others they include… death, trouble walking, vomiting, blacking out, passing out and becoming violent.

The Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guide also tells us not to drink more then two (women) three (men) drinks a day or 10(women) and 15 (men)  a week.  We are allowed an extra drink on special occasions.

Canadians seriously under report what they actually drink. It seems that more alcohol is sold in Canada then people are claiming to drink. In a Globe of Mail report (from data generated by the Centre for Addictions Research at the University of Victoria) it is reported that Canadians on average under-report their drinking by 75%.  The official Health Canada site tell us that 18% of drinkers exceed the Low Risk Drinking Guide recommendations. Most of the people we know exceed the weekly recommendation on the the average Friday night so that seems a bit low to us.

Further research reveals the rather staggering amount of money that is generated from direct taxation of alcohol. Ontario’s alcohol taxation revenue in 2009 was an impressive $1.9 billion dollars.  The indirect revenues from the alcohol industry  as a whole are even larger.  Apparently, Canadians spend more then 23 billion dollars a year on alcohol.

Perhaps comparing Canada with other countries might be helpful.  We have spent a lot of the time in the Caribbean and alcohol is relatively inexpensive there.  Beer that costs $24 here goes for less then $10 in the Caribbean.  Alcohol is also much cheaper in the United States.  Historically, the USA has had a more checkered experience with alcohol having enacted prohibition legislation that stood for over 12 years.  Canada had similar legislation but it lasted only a couple of years and was largely a part of the war effort. Even so, alcohol is less expensive, taxed less and more freely available (if you are over 21) in much of the United States.

In Canada it is reported that the price of alcohol is not keeping up with the consumer price index so I guess if its over priced now it has been even more over priced in the past.  Perhaps our incomes are not keeping pace with the consumer price index and that’s why it seems so expensive.

So what conclusions if any can be made of all this?  Is alcohol really too expensive?  Are we drinking too much and is the social cost of drinking already too high?  Or are we going drink anyway regardless of either the cost of drink or the social cost of drinking?  And what do we want our communities to be like?  Do we want our towns and cities to be full of life and attractive to tourists.  Is reasonably priced liquor a requirement for dynamic nightlife?

We are not sure but we would like everybody to weigh in on this discussion.  We do sense that we are conflicted on this issue.  We lie about how much we drink and we willingly allow our Governments to heavily tax what we do drink.

At Vote Canada we like to find a middle ground that Canadians can get behind and that generates the most reasonable direction to follow.  So the question to vote on for this blog entry is: Given that a) we like to drink and b) we are supportive of vibrant communities and tourism and alcohol for good or bad is part of the mix and c) we understand that the current tax revenue will not easily be replaced… that we take steps to reduce the price of alcohol but only in licensed establishments.  Yes or No.

An ideal outcome would be to reduce dangerous drinking by shifting drinking (to a degree) from private to public (supervised)  locations while simultaneously adding some life to our restaurants/nightlife and tourism industries while maintaining most of the tax revenue.

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