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Newfoundland and Labrador gets failing grade on liquor policies

Restaurants Canada places province at bottom of the list

If the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. (NLC) was a student and brought home the grade a national restaurant group gave it on Tuesday, it would probably lose its electronics for a couple of months.

Restaurants Canada, in its latest “Raise the Bar” report, gave Newfoundland and Labrador a D-minus for its liquor policies, thus keeping the province at the bottom of the organization’s nationwide list.

The grade is actually an improvement from last year’s report, in which the province scored an F.

According to its website, Restaurants Canada is a national, not-for-profit association representing Canada’s restaurant and food industry.

The report states there’s a long way to go in Newfoundland and Labrador to create a “modern, fair and competitive provincial liquor system.”

It did note the NLC has taken steps to improve relations with licensees by providing more notice of price increases, streamlining inspections and ending the special-order fee, but the industry is still unhappy with an increase in licence fees and needs relief from high prices.

“It’s frustrating to see a few administrative improvements for licensees, but zero action on the core issues of pricing and regulations,” says Luc Erjavec, Restaurants Canada’s vice-president for Atlantic Canada.

“We need the government and the NLC to get behind the bar and restaurant industry as a key contributor to the economy. They should be helping licensees to grow and succeed, not milking them dry.”

The report also notes the NLC is in a conflict of interest as a licensee supplier, competitor and regulator.

“We hope this government has the will to move forward with a more modern and competitive system for sourcing and serving beer, wine and spirits,” says Erjavec.

The annual Raise the Bar report rates each province on the bar and restaurant-friendliness of their liquor policies, primarily in terms of price, selection, licensing and regulation.

Nationally, Alberta earned the top mark, a B, as the only province to offer true wholesale pricing on beer, wine and spirits.

Newfoundland and Labrador is at the bottom of the class due to high prices, limited selection and excess red tape.

The full rankings are: Alberta B; Quebec, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. all B-minus; British Columbia and Manitoba C; Saskatchewan C-minus; New Brunswick D; and Newfoundland and Labrador D-minus.

Restaurants Canada says that in the country overall, high prices, unfair taxation and outdated rules continue to frustrate bar and restaurant owners.

The association is calling on the federal government to take action in two areas: revoke a hidden “tax escalator” that will automatically increase the federal excise tax on beer, wine and spirits every year — without a review or a vote in Parliament; allow free trade in beer, wine and spirits, which were specifically excluded from the Canada Free Trade Agreement unveiled earlier this year.

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