Laudable intentions, but potentially dangerous implementation

Éduc’alcool’s brief on Bill 88 (An Act respecting development of the small-scale alcoholic beverage industry) is based on three premises and raises a number of concerns.

Éduc’alcool agrees completely that products made by small-scale producers in Quebec should be supported, and sold in grocery and convenience stores.

And it would be better if it were easier for small-scale producers to sell their products through the SAQ.

But this should not serve as an excuse for deregulation. All current content and price controls for alcoholic products must continue to be applied.

The reasoning behind this position is as follows:

  • Alcohol is not a benign product, and alcohol sales must be supervised and controlled.
  • There are ways to support our local small producers while at the same time making it easier for them to sell their products through the SAQ network.
  • Grocery stores already sell wine. It should be possible to make room for artisanal products as well, by adapting current regulations to their situation.
  • In the absence of effective controls, alcohol becomes ordinary: its quality is not guaranteed, its price is not monitored, and this has consequences—on young people, the most vulnerable members of society, and the most dependent.
  • The current version of the bill contains no means for controlling product contents.
  • It does not even anticipate a minimum price for these alcoholic beverages. In fact, even though, in theory, there is a minimum price for beer in Quebec—and it is already the lowest in Canada—this regulation is circumvented systematically and regularly by grocery and convenience stores with complete impunity. The last thing Quebec needs is to include artisanal products in the jungle we already witnessing in beer sales.

Éduc’alcool’s recommendations are intended to assure all of us that the law take the following premises into consideration:

  • A state-owned corporation is the best tool for maintaining public health. Thus, it is better for SAQ regulations and controls to be applied to small-scale producers.
  • When it comes to selling alcohol, basic prudence requires that, in the interest of health and prevention, serious controls be placed on the content of alcoholic products, particularly with regard to the percentage of alcohol and compliance with health standards.
  • There must be a minimum price for alcoholic products sold to consumers. Furthermore, retailers must be forbidden from circumventing these minimums, specifically through cross-promotions, to prevent alcoholic beverages from becoming loss leaders, thereby making alcohol ordinary, and encouraging young people and the more vulnerable members of society to drink excessively.

Quebec has a good track record. We must not spoil it.

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