Right-wing reaction makes little sense in the context of their professed ideas on business

September 6 was a day that might have left many Albertans wondering what exactly the province’s political right has against Alberta’s growing craft beer industry.

That morning the Edmonton Journal ran an opinion piece by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s (CTF) Alberta director Paige MacPherson. The main thrust of MacPherson’s piece was to mock and belittle Joe Ceci, the Alberta finance minister, who recently toured Alberta-based craft breweries in the context of the province’s new beer mark-up policies by characterizing it as a pub-crawl.

Interestingly, this is the same CTF that has repeatedly called for the provincial government to do more to encourage investment, promote small business, and create jobs. As a result of changes announced to brewing regulations and mark-ups by both the Conservative and New Democrat governments over the last number of years, we have seen over 20 new breweries established in Alberta over the last 48 months, and many more are on the verge of launching. Those new breweries equate to millions of dollars of investment and hundreds of jobs in small and large communities across the province.

Alberta’s craft beer scene is one of the few sectors of the provincial economy that, despite the oil-price-driven recession, continues to see new investment and create new jobs. Somehow, however, the CTF seems to think that in this case the minister should be chastised and ridiculed for supporting and promoting new investment and jobs in Alberta. It seems like their message is that the government should do everything it can to encourage new businesses, unless those new businesses are craft breweries.

In a shocking coincidence, later that same day the Wildrose Opposition released a glossy piece of paper with six vague bullet points that it claimed was its policy proposal for reducing beer prices, improving choice, and “strengthening Alberta’s small beer industry.”

Setting aside for the moment the complete lack of detail behind any of their points, the fact that one of them calls for implementing policies that have already been in place for three years, and the fact that two of them seek to change policies in and access to other provinces where the Alberta government has absolutely no jurisdiction, their proposals would ultimately have the exact opposite effect on the local beer industry than what they claim.

Alberta’s craft beer industry has historically struggled because of the unfettered access that well-established better-supported craft breweries from other provinces have had to our market, enabling them to offer a comparable product at a lower price point. The government’s current policy charges all breweries the same mark-up, regardless of size or location, and offers incentives to Alberta craft breweries with a grant program that serves to off-set impact of increase. Reversing that policy, as the Wildrose advocates, would result in a continued flood of cheaper craft beer from BC and Ontario and make it hard for Alberta’s fledgling brewers to compete on the shelves.

It’s also ironic that a party that has for so long promoted the virtues of a flat income tax where everyone pays the same tax rate is now advocating a return to the province’s previous system where the mark-up increased as a company’s beer production increased.

Local beer blogger (and Vue columnist) Jason Foster highlighted the damage the Wildrose proposals would do to the local industry in a recent blog-post by suggesting that he “would have had more time for their press release had they admitted honestly that they are siding with imported beer over Alberta beer.”

Even the head of the Alberta Small Brewers Association stated in a letter to the editor of the Edmonton Journal that “the current government has moved decisively to put in place a framework that stimulates industry growth, while leaving our consumers with an open market, fair prices and by far the best choice of beer in the country.”

The numbers are clear when it comes to the growth of the Alberta craft beer industry of late, and even the industry group is applauding the government’s policies for stimulating growth, investment, and jobs.

Why then is Alberta’s political right, the supposed champions of small business and increased investment, working so hard to ridicule and oppose these very same policies? Have they become such knee-jerk contrarians that they are prepared to overturn policies that are yielding the results they have ostensibly been asking for? V

Ricardo Acuña is the executive director of the Parkland Institute, a non-partisan, public policy research institute housed at the University of Alberta. The views and opinions expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute.

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