Local craft brewers balk at Premier Ford’s buck-a-beer announcement

MANITOULIN—Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s recent announcement that the province’s minimum price for a bottle or can of beer will drop to one dollar has drawn both praise and criticism, with craft breweries nearly universally disapproving of the idea.

“It’s unlikely that any craft brewers in Ontario will be able to offer anything at a buck a beer,” said Nishin Meawasige, co-owner of Manitoulin Brewing Company in Little Current.

Gore Bay’s Split Rail Brewing Company had a similar response.

“We feel that the ‘buck-a-beer’ announcement is incongruent with the craft beer movement and its commitment to quality, local communities and social responsibility,” said Andy Smith, co-founder of the brewery.“The cost for raw materials and packaging has increased since the last time buck-a-beer pricing was available to the Ontario consumer,” said Mr. Meawasige.

Premier Ford’s announcement lowered the legal minimum price of a bottle or can of beer to $1, a price that has not been permitted since 2008. That’s when then-Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government raised the minimum price of a 24-case of beer to $25.60—or $1.07 per beer. Currently, the minimum legal price for a bottle or can of beer in Ontario is $1.25, making a case cost $30.

However, breweries are not being forced to sell their beers for just $1. The big announcement amounts to an opt-in program that will provide brewers with marketing incentives at the LCBO for hitting the minimum price. Premier Ford is calling this the ‘Buck-A-Beer Challenge’ and has promised that it will not cost taxpayers anything. Brewers will not receive any tax incentives or subsidies for participating in the ‘challenge.’

But advertising and marketing are not free. The LCBO trade resources website has a section on promotional programs that lists some of the costs for in-store marketing initiatives. Offering any incentives at lower costs than their standard pricing will mean lost income for the LCBO—an Ontario crown corporation whose revenues help to fund government initiatives.

Premier Ford said this move is part of his government’s campaign promise to “reduce red tape and put the people first.”

“Today I am proud to say: Promise made, promise kept,” said Premier Ford.

Mixed opinions are circulating among the public, with a great deal of people expressing negative feelings about the announcement.

Premier Ford’s announcement has fuelled a number of new conversations about funding priorities among taxpayers, getting more individuals engaged in their government.

“I think they should be focusing on other things than beer,” said Cindy Scheck as she loaded her truck at the Beer Store in Little Current. “He should lower gas prices instead of beer!”

Premier Ford also promised to lower gas prices by 10 cents per litre during his election campaign. Since he was elected, he scrapped the cap-and-trade program that added 4.3 cents per litre of fuel.

Greg Swain, who is from Wisconsin but has a place in McGregor Bay, said there are more important things to focus on. “Beer, wine, any kind of that is a luxury,” he said while sitting on the Manitoulin Brewing Company’s patio.

“If you’re putting a price break on something, shouldn’t it be geared towards families? What about having healthy food alternatives or school lunches, versus a beer?”

Some critics have also cautioned lower prices could lead to increased consumption, which may harm individuals’ health.

When the program comes into effect on August 27, a majority of craft brewers in Ontario will not be participating. An independent citizen-run Twitter account called @OntarioBuckBeer is keeping track of breweries that publicly announce their stance on the program.

So far, the only brewery that has committed to the challenge is Barley Days in Picton. They hosted Premier Ford for his official buck-a-beer announcement and will be launching their Loon Lager on August 27.