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RADIA: B.C. should follow Alberta's lead on booze

FACE TO FACE: Should B.C. privatize distribution of liquor? O utside of Alberta, Canada's liquor distribution models are just plain wacky.

FACE TO FACE: Should B.C. privatize distribution of liquor?

Outside of Alberta, Canada's liquor distribution models are just plain wacky.

In most provinces, the government controls the distribution of alcohol through publicly owned warehouses and retail outlets. In British Columbia, for example, all retail liquor sales must be purchased through the government's Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB), which acts as the worldwide buyer and distributor for virtually all liquor sold.

The system is a remnant of a past era when governments believed it was their right and duty to encourage moderation in alcohol consumption.

But is this really necessary in 2012?

It's time for B.C. to follow Alberta's lead.

Now, my colleague opposite and I agree that the Christy Clark BC Liberals have no authority - moral or otherwise - to privatize anything during what is hopefully their last year in office. We don't want another BC Rail fiasco, after all.

But eventually, privatizing liquor distribution is a good policy.

In 1993, the government of Alberta became the first province to disband its liquor control board and replaced it with a private - albeit highly regulated - liquor distribution system. The retail system is also now fully privatized so that licensed private stores can sell liquor.

According to a 2012 analysis completed by the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy, Alberta's experience has been a success. Since privatization, the number of liquor stores in Alberta has greatly increased, as have product selection and government revenues. Prices decreased by 2.9% across the board while alcohol consumption only increased modestly.

Liquor boards are also costing us money because of bad management.

While they purchase large volumes of alcohol, they can't or won't negotiate volume discounts. The theory is, if the price for alcohol is high, people will drink more responsibly and they will buy less.

As a result, instead of paying $6.50 for a bottle of Yellow Tail Shiraz in a chain store in California, or $10.40 for it in Alberta, British Columbians pay $12.99 or more.

The government needs to get out of the liquor business altogether. It can regulate booze to ensure it stays out of the hands of minors but let adults decide when and where to purchase their beverages.

Andy Radia is a Coquitlam resident and political columnist who writes for Yahoo! Canada News and Vancouver View Magazine. He has been politically active in the Tri-Cities, having been involved with election campaigns at all three levels of government, including running for Coquitlam city council in 2005.