Thursday, February 23, 2012

LDB Privatization: Gift Horse or Trojan Horse?

Many BC drinkers will have read the extraordinary news that parts of our province's antiquated Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) are likely to be privatized by 2014. As someone who is already involved in a campaign to change the LDB, you might expect me to cheer. If this turns out well, it will save me a lot of time organizing and circulating E-petitions. But this is a very dangerous time! Be vigilant.

First of all it is important to understand what's being proposed. The LDB consists of liquor stores, warehouses, and administration. The 197 retail stores are not being touched at this time, but under the new system will presumably pay the same wholesale price as private liquor stores (BC LDB currently buys direct and marks up wholesale for private stores).

It is the warehouses that are to be sold. They currently serve 1400 retailers and 8000 bars and restaurants. BC Liberals are selling these assets off to balance the books, but also because the current system is a "dog's breakfast", in the words of BC Energy Minister Rich Coleman who is currently tasked with overseeing the LDB.

Whoever controls the warehouses controls the beer supply: what gets bought from brewers, what gets sold, where, and for how much.

What makes the LDB such a hound's brunch is that it is set up to penalize producers by depriving them of operating costs (currently, the LDB takes breweries' beer, sells it, and THEN pays them, after weeks if not months of wandering around with brewers' cash in their pockets). BC Liquor Stores are also run in a horrendous manner, with 12–foot sections of floorspace devoted to 6 packs, 12 packs, 18 packs, 24 packs etc of shitty US big-brand import beers, while local craft beer producers have to grovel to all-powerful portfolio managers just to get a single shelf spot for an entire line of products.

Beer Store: 247 Flavours of Not Good

So any reform is good, right? Well, not necessarily. Have you ever heard of Ontario's The Beer Store? It is a privately-owned retail/distribution operation that works alongside the LCBO and is afforded bizarre rights to control much of the beer sales in the whole province. What's worse is that The Beer Store's owners are — you guessed it — Anheuser-Busch InBev, Molson and (with a tiny share) Sleeman (Sapporo). So you have big corporate beer deciding how much craft beer gets sold. Unsurprisingly, a visit to one of the hellish Beer Stores reveals a dismal dearth of decent drink. Ask any Ontario craft beer drinker or producer and they will tell you that their system is brutal and certainly oppressive.

But that doesn't mean that BC's warehouses will end up in similar hands, does it? Maybe not, and what's being proposed currently is nothing like as significant as the Beer Store reforms — at least not yet… In the interests of some worst-case-scenario conjecture, let's do some quick sleuthing eh?
Can you see where I'm going with this?

Anyone who cares about beer, wine, music, love, or life itself, should pay careful attention to LDB privatization developments, and get ready to support a consumer-based campaign to make sure that any reforms are truly in the best interests of BC drinkers and producers.


  1. hey Dan, I just wrote an eerily similar piece at didn't know the whole Scotty Lyons angle though. Scary.

  2. Nice piece, Jan. Pleased to make acquaintance. The $700m question is a big one. I presume there's no possibility of splitting up the warehousing side of the business and selling the actual capital for other purposes? Lots of questions to look at. Interesting to look at the Alberta model for privatization too.

  3. if you go by a sheer numbers game, Labatt Budweiser is the best selling beer in the world/canada, so in a business sense, why wouldn't you devote more of your floor space to it? but i totally agree, it is shit beer, i would go a step further, i would probably go sober than drink that crap, give me a Fat Tug IPA any day. Honestly i have no idea why are you are soo against bcliquorstores, they made the bc wine industry, they support bc craft beer, they sell lots of craft beer in huge numbers, the way the system is set up is to limit the selection in bcliquorstores, so it gives the private stores an edge, personally i would rather shop there and keep it public

    1. I am not opposed to a government run distribution branch at all. The fact of the matter is that the current setup is awful in many ways for the craft beer industry. Ask any brewer and you will soon discover why. There is abuse of discretionary power, arbitrary decision-making, chronic inefficiencies, lack of transparency, and many other problems. If you care to hear more I can talk concrete details all night… I think an ideal situation would be a single-buyer model that distributed at cost to private stores at the same price, but it is not workable politically. We'll just have to hope that whatever comes along is not worse than what we have.

    2. save-on-beers sounds pretty scary to me!

    3. you are right. it is set up to give the private stores an advantage. they have all these products called SIPS that the gov stores are not allowed to sell but the private stores can. lets get an even playing field and all be able to sell the same things....then see where everyone stores because they are cheaper! If there is something wrong with distribution then lets fix it....don't throw in the towel...thats the way why is everyone so against gov stores? if you want a job there go apply for one!

    4. That's an idiotic suggestion. If gov stores and private stores sold all the same products, the private stores would go out of business in about a week because they have to purchase their stocks from their rival who gets it at a lower cost. Gov should be all in or it should just supply to private stores and not retail or it should get out of the business altogether. There are arguments and merits for each case, but what you're suggesting is clearly ridiculous.

    5. its not idiodic and its not ridiculous bud..... its an opinion...if you want conversation then take it all not just the ones that you agree with...cause guess what you might not be right all the time

    6. Fair enough. But if you truly evened up the playing field (i.e. same wholesale costs for private and gov stores), government stores would not be cheaper anymore as their labour costs are significantly higher than private stores. In that scenario, government stores would tank immediately. Their entire business model is based on their control of costs and sales. I perhaps shouldn't have said your idea was idiotic, but anyone can see that it is fundamentally unworkable. That's not just opinion, it's economic reality.

    7. I think that the gov stores would do OK throught sheer volume. Any of the big players like Molson, Anhauser, Mark Anthony they will all have their own products to push and we'll end up with liqour stores full of bud, hells gate and pacific western. If its bent straighten it don't throw it away.

    8. There's obviously a large misconception with the LDB & Gov LS by the general public at large. The items they're not listing/selling (specs) is the LDB choice. Funny how some assume the private stores will collapse if they all sell the same items. Hogwash, our store sells twice as much Lucky (& Labatt/Molson products) as our local GLS. In addition, our local GLS no longer carries Granville Island beer (store choice not the LDB) so the locals come to us for it. Many private stores also sell at GLS prices, including their chilled products. Look at Alberta, they've proved it runs better privately, and the same time less cost to the consumer and an increase of total tax $ back to social funding. And now Washington state is doing the same. It's an antiquated bureaucratic monopoly, and it needs to be changed.

    9. what store is this?

    10. Less cost to the consumer in Alberta?
      Maybe so for crap beers and some wines but where I live in Edmonton prices for craft beers are much higher than in B.C. Liquor Stores.
      I am fortunate to live close to a store that sells good beers at prices close to that found in BC stores but places like this are a rare exception rather than the rule.

  4. private stores do get a sizeable discount i thought, 30% for LRS i think?

    1. Not really, although it might seem that way. Private liquor stores buy for 16% below government RETAIL price — i.e. what they sell the stuff for in BC liquor stores. That's still in excess of what it cost the LDB to buy the stuff from the producers. Price is not really my concern, it's fostering a healthy environment for producers and providing better choice and quality for drinkers. Current BC LDB does not do this, and Beer Store style is arguably even worse.

  5. i think u got a problem with the lclb, and i don't think they are gonna privatize

    1. I have a problem with how the LDB is currently run. I have no problem with government run liquor distribution in itself. And they have explicitly said that they are moving toward privatizing parts of their operation, so I'd think again.

    2. isn't the lclb that set up the liquor laws, not the ldb?

  6. i personally like bcliquorstores, why don't you?

    1. I also like bcliquorstores. If you read the post and comments you will see I have plainly explained why they could be better.

  7. Well-written article with solid arguments. We definitely should be wary of big corporations controlling the liquor supplies... keep us posted for any updates!

  8. The LDB ships to the private stores for $30 bucks a liquor load. Do you think a private distributor would do that? These private owners are in for a big surprise. Their loads will cost $100s of dollars each, and who will they pass that cost on to? Dont fix what isn't broken. The LRS owners would also agree.

    1. Exactly my point. If the scenario you describe unfolds, then the only people able to afford to sell liquor will be…the distributors! i.e. we'd have the Beer Store #2. I have no idea where people are getting the idea from that I am anti-LDB. I stated clearly I am interested in "reform" — which is necessary if it is to survive and match the passion of BC craft beer drinkers and producers.

    2. They'll probably ship for free, just as BDL ships all it's Labatt & Molson products for free.

    3. It's not free. It's built into the price you pay at the till. BDL also has a 100% refund policy for their sharehodlers products. This too is built into the price. That's why Budwesier is $11.95 for a 6 pack and Bowen island is only $7.95.

  9. A big selection of Beers is unfortunately a money loser for private owners. The name of the game is to sell high volume movers. Most people want Bud and Corona. I have seen the numbers. If you want to make money, you have to dedicate the space for these brands. It stinks, but that's the truth.

    1. Disagree entirely. Hillside Liquor store stocks all the big brands, but limits them to sensible shelf space. They also go overboard to bring in hundreds of craft lines and do a very tidy sum selling both side by side. Do you know what kind of lobbying the LDB submits to to dedicate unreasonably large shelf/floor space to the big breweries? Do some research into how those decisions are made. It has nothing to do with keeping big brands in stock, and everything to do with political pressure to render smaller brands invisible.

    2. because they can and do carry specs

  10. i hate corona, i hate coors light, i also hate Bacardi, but every store owner that sells liquor would be a fool not to carry it, craft spirits do not sell, and there are alot in BC, the craft beer industry is doing very well in my opinion, almost as good as the wine industry, and i think they can thank the LDB for that

    1. why would they thank the LDB? the LDB doesn't do much for craft beer producers at all. present some evidence that the LDB should take any credit whatsoever for the labours of our regional breweries. look at the scene they have in Washington and Oregon. BC's has as much potential, but we're miles behind. With the right system in place, our craft beer scene would be twice as good as it already is.

    2. look what the LDB has done for the wine industry- i think one of the theories is that breweries such as Driftwood do not produce enough cases of their specialty beers to supply the volume that bcliquorstores do-they save those beers for the private sector

    3. Why don't you phone Driftwood and actually ask them like I have?

    4. "Look what the LDB has done for the wine industry?" What wine are you talking about? Certainly not small BC wineries. Over taxed and under represented. If it weren't for private LRS's, there'd be no Vancouver Island wineries, thx to the LDB.

    5. i live in a small town, went to my gls and tried to order Driftwood's singularity, the manager called driftwood and they said that they only made a small batch and they were sold to private stores-same with Phillips Double Dragon-small batch only to private stores

    6. the LDB only buys wines from wineries that can guarantee a years suppy-than the new vintage comes-these small wineries can't supply the volume that the gls does-and i tried Saturna Island Gamay-tasted like shit

  11. Remember, the private industry would not support the craft beer industry. No money in it. If full privatization happens in B.C , it will be big players who will control what you can buy. Costco, Superstore etc. Small outlets will have to close down. Thats a business fact.

    1. Ah yes, that's why you can't buy a decent beer in mean old 100% privatized, corporate USA. Oh, wait…

  12. Anonymous - pop on over to Brewery Creek or the Legacy liquor store and tell me that the private industry would not support craft beer.

    Both locations have made their name on the fact that they do. They devote double the floor space to it.

    1. that is because all the products they carry are specs-which are products that are exclusively for restaurants and private stores, most bcliquorstores carry all the beer that is available to them, this two tier product classification was introduced to give the private sector a chance, so it is not a monopoly-

    2. Firstly, private liquor stores do not only carry SPECS- imagine Brewery Creek, Legacy, or Firefly shelves being absent of Central City or most Driftwood beers. And I'd like to believe that government liquor stores carry "all the beer that is available to them," but you should see the difference between some. I literally drive past my neighbourhood bcls to one 15 minutes away b/c the craft beer selection is far superior. I spoke with the manager at my neighbourhood bcls and he said it wouldn't be sensible to stock his shelves with Driftwood's Fat Tug IPA because it sells so poorly. So, the beer section looks like a 10 yr old kid's cardboard box fortress.

    3. We should have craft insurance companies too!
      Privatize ICBC!!

    4. the manager of Legacy used to work for the LDB, he prides himself on only carrying specs

    5. Meriko is his name, he shops at the Alberni St. signature store, i saw him there, lol

  13. Dan - thank you for this article. I hope that you will remain one of the lights shining into this murky deal to make sure there is transparancy.

  14. A few niche stores will always be around. My point is, big player privatization will be bad for most everyone. Everyone on this board knows this. These big players will sell what most people want to buy. Bud, Corona, Kokanee,Coors light, Yellow Tail Wine, Bacardi, etc. Being in the business for 20 years, i've seen what people want.

    1. Overall beer sales are declining yet "craft" beer sales are up by up to 15% over the last two years across US and Canada. In privatized and gov-owned environments (e.g. US vs UK vs Canada), craft sales are the strongest they have ever been. Even the bigger private chains on the Island (e.g. Liquor Plus) are devoting more and more space to craft (and far more than the BC LDB). I'm sorry but the facts just don't support your argument.

  15. Are you happy with the craft brew selection you have now? Remember, we have almost as many private stores as Alberta. What you see is what you get. My argument is, if the big box stores come in, we all lose. For the record, i love craft beer too.

    1. You've changed your argument to one I almost agree with. My article itself warns about the big box privatization (i.e. Beer Store). The argument that privatization is necessarily worse than government owned is where you began, and that's clearly not true. Whether gov or priv, it's about how it's done, and as the international scene demonstrates there are multiple possibilities good and bad either way.

  16. Thanks for Making this "out there" !

  17. This all ties in neatly with the recent report that The Beer Store has been making donations to BC Liberals. Why would an organization that exists to sell beer to Ontarians get involved in BC politics? You might well ask...

  18. Lets privatize the BCLDB warehouses. First of all the workers there are overpaid. The average worker at the BCLDB warehouses earns $1000 every two weeks and that is AFTER TAXES. Way too much money for warehouse workers to earn.They should be earning $500 every two weeks. Secondly the price of liquor is too low in BC, with a private company running the distribution centres the mark up will be higher therefore increasing the prices in the stores,so it will be more expensive and will cut down on drinking.Thirdly the government does not need profit from warehouse operations, the BC Government earned 400 million in profit from the warehouses in Vancouver and Kamloops last year, that money should go to a private company. That way we can cut funding for public medical care, which the private sector should be providing.Also let the strong survive, the BCLDB buys beer from these silly micro breweries therefore keeping them in business. If the warehouse is private then only good beer (Corona,Molsons,and Budweiser) will be available at the liquor stores.Those silly companies (Bowen Island,Granville Island and Stanley Park,etc) will no longer be in business. Only beer that is worthy will be on the shelves.Finally BC consumers will be able to have a wider selection of California wines,since a private distributor will not carry inferior okanagan wines.

    1. Interesting hysterical satire. As enjoyable as it is, it just inflames without informing.
      1. I (and noone else I can see here) is advocating blind privatization
      2. Have you researched how privatization goes? In some places it is as bad as you hint, in others things are very different. We need to take an informed view and work out what works best.
      3. BC LDB has many problems and many good points. Can we think of a way to salvage the best and make it better? That would be my interest.

      Thanks for posting everyone, I'm enjoying and learning.

  19. Hey Dan,
    Privatization is the way to go,everything in the Liquor industry should be private. Those workers are over paid. You must be a leftist.
    1 We Liberals want full privatization of liquorin BC, we will sell off all the stores next year.
    2. Privatization is successful everywhere it has been tried.
    3.The BCLDB has overpaid workers ($1000 every two weeks for the average worker)Outrageously high.
    4. Mr Kinsella is a good honest guy, who knows that privatization will benefit BC. God Bless Kinsella.

    1. You must be a sick puppy, BC Liberal. Workers overpaid at $500 a week? Let's see, that's about $2000 a month and about $24,000 a year. Asshole.

  20. More good news folks! That dirty water otherwise known as Okanagan wines will be eliminated from distribution system once a private company takes over the BCLDB warehouse and replaced with good genuine California wine. This can not happen soon enough.

  21. If the BC Liberal government gets involved, like everything else they've been involved in, you can count on four things ...

    1) Prices will go up
    2) Quality of service will go down
    3) Taxes will go up
    4) Employment opportunities will go down

  22. Rusty,
    Prices need to go up, liquor is too cheap in BC.With higher prices less people will drink. With a private distribution that will lead to higher prices since a private distributor will have a higher mark up and will increase the delivery fee for stores, bars and restaurants.Presently the government charges $35 per delivery whereas a private company will charge $100 per pallet.Quality will go up because a private company will not sell crappy beer from micro breweries but will sell Budweiser, Coors , Molsons etc. Finally garbage wines from BC will be gone and will free up store space for more high quality California wines. Thank you Pat Kinsella for privatizing the government distribution centres.

    1. So how close IS your relationship with Kinsella? Closer than Crusty's or Pork Chop's? My condolences in eiher case.

  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. Liquor is too cheap in BC?

    Less people will drink with higher prices?

    Crappy micro beer?

    Garbage wines from BC?

    Nice use of sarcasm, unfortunately there are elected people in positions of power and trust who actually try to sell this type of thinking to the general public.


    interesting read:

  26. Company seeking BC liquor distribution change was fined in US

    By Andrew MacLeod, 28 Feb 2012,
    A company pushing for privatization of British Columbia's liquor distribution system was last week fined $283,000 for health and safety violations at a Pennsylvania plant.

    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Exel Logistics "intentionally failed to report 42 serious injuries over four years to workers at the plant in Palmyra, Pa., or 43 percent of all such injuries in that period at that plant," according to a New York Times report.

    The Tyee reported last week that Patrick Kinsella, a long time BC Liberal strategist whose consulting company Progressive Strategies donated to Premier Christy Clark's leadership campaign, had registered to lobby on Exel's behalf for changes to the province's liquor distribution system.

    As part of the B.C. budget, the government announced it intends to privatize that system, and will sell two warehouses to the private sector through a request for proposals process. About 400 BCGEU employees work at the warehouses. The sale of surplus assets is expected to raise some $700 million to help the government balance its budget in 2013-2014.

    The six-month investigation into violations at the plant where Exel workers packed Hershey's chocolates found the unreported injuries, many of which were related to lifting and moving heavy boxes, required medical treatment, according to the Times.

    The Times quoted David Michaels, the assistant secretary of labour in charge of OSHA: "It was very clear to us that dozens of injuries had not been recorded . . . Exel understood exactly what the law was on reporting. They were aware of these other injuries, and they just did not record them.”

    He stressed the violations were "Not just paperwork . . . It’s lives and limbs."

    An Exel spokesperson, Lynn Anderson, told the Times the company will contest the citations and fines and that the matter involved one area of one site.

    Exel has operations in more than 500 facilities in the United States and Canada.

    Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

  27. I am an import agent. I specialize in craft beer. I'm all for the privatization of the warehouses, so long as all stakeholders get input into the rules by which those warehouses are run. Frankly, I don't care who runs them, and moreover I DON'T believe the govt should be in this business, but I do care that I get a fair shake. If they were run as they are now, and the private owners don't get to control the rules I'm ok with. They would also need to adhere to a very rigid, and collectively agreed upon fee structure. Otherwise, they would have a significant advantage over the small players. But there is a way to privatize these without ruining our craft scene.

    Most people don't understand the role these warehouses play. But they are a big part of the reason why you can buy craft beer imports outside of the Lower Mainland. Their existence allows guys like me to import whatever I want, and then take advantage of the LDB's economies of scale and centralization. Because they are already delivering to Vernon, for example, I can send Cantillon there affordably. If Labatt owned the warehouse (just saying) and decided to charge way more for that than the LDB does, I might have to decide against doing business there.

    The problem, and my fear, lies in the fact that we probably won't have much input into this.

    Adam - RainCity Brands

    1. hey Adam, you are dreaming if u think you are gonna have any say in how the warehouse is run pal, i thought you as an agent would be more pissed at Container World not shipping your product in a more effiicent manner than the LDB warehouse

      and you are right if it wasn't for the LDB, your beers would not make it too Vernon, too expensive for you.

  28. Only the strong will survive under a privatized liquor distribution system. I am tired of the government giving shelf space both at the retail level and warehouses to shitty micro brews and inferior okanagan wines. When it is privatized we will have more quality wine from California and more good American beer. These craft breweries are only in business because of government handouts and the same goes for Okanagan wines. Get this crap (BC wines and BC beer from small inefficient companies) This will happen. Oh and another thing Pat Kinsella is involved in this privatization because he cares about BC. He too wants crappy wine and beer out of our stores. Coors and Budweiser will be happy to fill the void and thank god, it can not come soon enough. Thanks Pat Kinsella.

    1. Who is paying you to post this crap?

  29. Liberal: you made your point a long time ago. I see no fans of blind privatization commenting here – quite the opposite. I'd rather we focussed discussion on practical alternatives to privatization mixed with needed reforms of our current Jekyll and Hyde LDB system.


    Here's my post on the matter.

  31. When Exel takes over the LDB they will charge $100 per pallet for delivery, whereas the LBD charges ONLY $35 a delivery anywhere in the province. Now thankfully the stores and restaurants will be charged a more fair delivery charge and the small restaurants and bars that order liquor in small quantities will be out of business. Only the strong will survive. Funny how nobody is talking about the high wages of the LDB workers, which are outrageously high. They make anywhere from $1600 to $2400 after taxes per month. At Exel it will be more fair at $1000 per month after taxes.These workers are getting away with murder.

    1. thats because the LDB warehouses used to subsidize the private sector-not any more, if it goes private, they will run it like a "real business"

    2. The LDB pays the delivery for the Private Stores and the Rural Agency Stores. If an Agency wants their product to be delivered, the Ldb will pay for that. When an Agency Store comes to the Gov store to pick up their order they get paid to come and get it.

    3. BC Lieberal, could you live on $1000 a month? Is getting a living wage getting away with murder? You make me sick.

  32. We can all take great comfort in the realization that in a few more months BC Liberals will disappear from the landscape after a ten year reign of mean-spirited, deceitful, "leadership" ...

  33. I have been in this business for 20 years. Love them or hate them, the LDB is the best alternative for all involved. BC Liberal is right when he says shipments will be priced to high under a private company. The LRS owners will agree with that.
    This whole privatization thing is a shady deal. BC rail, comes to mind. We should be retaining our assets, not selling them. Lets hope the unions slap an injunction on this deal and delay it. Then the new government can reverse it.

  34. liberals just wanna make a mess of things in general.they know the ndp is coming into power so why not make it as tough on them as possible. why else would you sell something that makes money hand over fist? the ldb is a money making machine, is that not good for b.c. families christy?!?

  35. Christy Clarke and her bully pals plan on squeezing every last drop out of the taxpayers before they shuffle off to their next opportunistic endeavours ...

  36. This is a honest deal since Pat Kinsella is involved.The BC Rail deal was fair and open and had honest people involved like the Virk brothers and Pat Kinsella. Don't beleive otherwise. The LDB warehouse only made $450 million last year and they need to spend $50 million in upgrades so it makes sense to privatize it.

    1. Okay, I get it. You're like a telemarketer, just working a crap job for pay. Sad.


    can't wait til we have these poppin'up all over
    beautiful british columbia. this one is faaannncyyy!
    don't worry, the only reason the shelves are so bare is cuz it got robbed the night before these pics were takin'....again.otherwise, the selection is great!

  38. what happened to all the discussion on this. they are going to privatize just waiting for a buyer to be announced. the warehouse workers jobs will be lost to jobs will come in at a lower rate of pay..minimun wage likely... just like highways and save-on. so now what. so now what??? what are you all thinking about that???

  39. i dont know what i think of your comments, cuz i can't read fuck all, with all that fuckin' heavy print and shit in the godamn way, wtf?!

    1. you're the only person to have reported problems reading the comments. Normal print here and perfectly legible. Please check your browser settings or something else, it's on your end.

  40. at about every 2-3 posts there are pictures of hops and the words "small beer" in large bold lettering, that back drop the posts and make it challenging to read.

  41. We all loose on this deal. LDB workers, craft beer makers, the customer. This is a shady deal, just like the bc rail fiasco. And we know who is involved in both.

  42. Sorry about the spelling mistake.

  43. Privitization of the LDB is bad for the workers, consumers, and revenue of the province. It is good for Kinsella and basically that's about it.


  45. Privitization means costs go up! Period. Educate yourselves. Don't assume anything! I have been in this buisness for 14 years. We all know what is goin to happen. This is a shady deal and if it goes thru, it will be a HUGE regret.

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