Five per cent jump at private liquor stores just another tax grab against rural Islanders
© Guardian photo
The decision to hike prices by five per cent at private liquor agency stores in the province is unfair and an added tax on rural Islanders. The rationale used by Tourism Minister Robert Henderson to justify this increase fails to hold up under reasonable scrutiny.
Prices for beer, wine and spirits at the seven liquor agency stores increased May 1. Mr. Henderson, the minister responsible for the P.E.I. Liquor Control Commission, said the change was made on the premise of convenience. That argument is outrageous. It’s just the opposite.
The seven stores are located in Cavendish, Kinkora, East Royalty, Morell, Eldon, the Murray River area and Wood Islands. Mr. Henderson obviously hasn’t shopped at those agency stores. For example, a customer hoping to quickly get in and out at Mel’s in East Royalty or the outlet in Morell to purchase a bottle of wine for dinner must get in line while people ahead pay for lottery tickets, gas, cigarettes, groceries, snacks, propane or liquor.
If there is just one clerk on duty, the wait can seem interminable, especially during busy periods in the morning and evening, or the busy tourism season.
So where is the convenience here, Mr. Henderson? It’s an inconvenience that Islanders near the 18 LCC corporate stores don’t have to endure.
Using Mr. Henderson’s logic, prices at the seven private stores should be five per cent less, not more. Apart from Mel’s, all private stores are in rural areas of the Island, and it’s likely that many Mel’s customers are rural Islanders heading home after work in Charlottetown.
The rationale for setting up the private stores was to make access more fair since those areas were under-served for years and residents had to drive for miles for liquor supplies. Morell had the first private store in the province, established some 20 years ago, and the other six were announced in 2012. Now two years later, government decides to apply a convenience tax.
What about all the years when rural Islanders in central and eastern areas of the province paid extra in time and gas to shop for booze miles from home?
This is simply a tax grab on rural P.E.I. to subsidize outlets in Charlottetown and smaller urban centres.
The harried clerks at the seven private stores are usually overworked, likely underpaid and not trained properly as owners try to squeeze every nickel as profit.
So Mr. Henderson, when rural Islanders have to drive to Charlottetown or to the limited number of Access P.E.I. outlets to pay their vehicle registration fees or renew driver’s licences, will they pay five per cent less for the inconvenience not faced by their urban cousins.
It works both ways, Mr. Henderson, this idea of paying for convenience.
The minister admits the new pricing structure provides corporate stores with an advantage, especially for those price-conscious shoppers. Doesn’t he realize that rural islanders will now likely shop at corporate stores since they already have to be in urban centres for work, see their doctor or get prescriptions filled?
It will mean fewer customers and less revenue for the private agencies.
And finally, Mr. Henderson admits it was partly a revenue-driven decision after all. Profits from this price increase will be split between the PEILCC and the private agency. So rural Islanders will pay more taxes to government and more profit to private operators who offer bare-boned customer service now. The estimated increase in revenue for the province from this increase is estimated to be around $150,000.
That’s the price of yet another assault on rural P.E.I. The offer of more cash to the agencies is small consolation to their customers.
The LCC turned only a small profit last year and did not hit its budget targets so guess who has to pay to make up for those losses?
This ill-advised five percent surcharge must be reversed at once.