End the liquor monopoly

That’s not because the individuals working at the liquor corporation aren’t doing a good job, but rather because we can use other levels of government and the marketplace to more efficiently achieve the goals of the monopoly.

It’s time that the Yukon government got out of the liquor business.

That’s not because the individuals working at the liquor corporation aren’t doing a good job, but rather because we can use other levels of government and the marketplace to more efficiently achieve the goals of the monopoly.

The Yukon government, through the liquor corporation, has enjoyed a monopoly on the sale of alcohol throughout the territory as long as I have been alive. The monopoly, by virtue of a lack of competition and the overhead connected to the Crown corporation, results in higher prices for alcohol throughout Yukon.

This is before we include the artificial 15 per cent increase in prices at off-sales once the sole liquor store in Whitehorse closes.

Further, the liquor corporation, an unelected body, is tasked with regulating the sale of alcohol, meaning that the issuance and enforcement of liquor licences is carried out by a body that is accountable only to the courts, rather than the democratically elected legislature.

As citizens we should expect some return for the resulting higher prices and democratic-disconnect, meaning the monopoly should serve some public purpose.

The purpose of the monopoly must be to reduce the harm associated with the use of alcohol throughout the territory. The question is, can the specific manner in which the liquor corporation pursues that policy be reproduced more efficiently (read cheaper) by the marketplace or other levels of government without sacrificing safety? If so, then I would say the monopoly must end.

The liquor corp. currently engages in three broad activities connected to liquor: the direct sale of liquor, advertisement concerning safe use of liquor and the issuance and enforcement of third-party liquor licences. These activities are designed to, respectively, raise money for the Yukon government to deal with social harm stemming from liquor, provide information to the public to hopefully prevent future harm and to regulate sales of alcohol to achieve reduction in harm.

I would suggest that the above three broad policy goals can be met without the liquor corp. by, firstly, privatizing liquor and instituting a liquor tax, secondly, by tasking the alcohol and drug services branch (which already exists) with the advertisement and promotion side of prevention and, thirdly, by downloading the day-to-day regulation and licensing of establishments to the municipalities.

First, by privatizing sale and instituting a liquor tax we can raise the same amount of revenue as today less the overhead of the liquor corp. With or without the monopoly, people will purchase alcohol. That means that, depending on where the tax rate is set, we can easily determine the rate required to raise an appropriate amount to offset the profits lost from the wind-up of the liquor corp.

Secondly, by downloading responsibility of regulation and issuance of liquor licences to the municipalities we democratize the process, leaving decisions on liquor to the affected communities. Why should Pelly Crossing or Old Crow have to come to the Yukon government, cap in hand, to request that their communities be dry communities?

Further, why should Whitehorse care whether Dawson City wants to keep its bars open until 4 a.m. all summer? Leave these decisions to the citizens of the communities – it will lead to a more transparent system of liquor regulation.

The municipalities will be able to raise funds through setting liquor licence fees.

The Yukon government will still be in the regulation game when it comes to broad control of marketing and safety surrounding the sale of liquor, much like the control of cigarettes, but the day-to-day regulation and inspection of establishments can be left to the municipalities.

As a bonus, the downloading of regulation to the municipalities will also harness further economic efficiencies in that instead of having liquor inspectors and municipal bylaw officers both inspecting businesses in town, we would just have municipal bylaw officers. Remember that we currently have to transport Whitehorse-based liquor inspectors as far as Eagle Plains, which is not the most efficient use of resources. Having individuals who live in the area and who are already tasked with reviewing municipal bylaws inspecting liquor establishments makes more sense.

Lastly, the download of all liquor related issues to alcohol and drug services will create a one-stop-shop for issues stemming from the use of alcohol in the territory. For example, both the liquor corp. and the alcohol and drug services are currently concerned with advertising to prevent harm stemming from use of alcohol. Would it not make more sense to have one government agency tasked with creating one global policy, rather than the current fragmented approach?

Taking the above three steps will place licensing in the hands of the affected communities, centralize preventative steps with one government department and reduce prices of alcohol, all without reducing funds flowing to government or sacrificing safety. All that occurs is we remove the middleman from the equation, being the liquor corp.

Government and the marketplace can engage in a bit of synergy here, with government doing what it does best, which is tax harmful products and provide services for those in need, while the marketplace doing what it does best, which is sell things. By letting each sector focus on its strength the system as a whole will certainly come out ahead.

Graham Lang is a Whitehorse lawyer and long-time Yukoner.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. The Yukon government announced three new cases of COVID-19 in Watson Lake on Oct. 23. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three new COVID-19 cases identified in Watson Lake

The Yukon government has identified three locations in town where public exposure may have occurred

A pedestrian passes by an offsales sandwich board along Fourth Avenue in Whitehorse on Oct. 22. NDP MLA Liz Hanson raised concerns Oct. 21 in the legislature about increased hospitalizations due to alcohol consumption that correlate with an extension in the hours alcohol can be sold in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Alcohol-related hospitalizations rise after off-sales hours extended

Reduced hours for off-sale liquor establishments likely part of Liquor Act spring reforms

Tourism and Culture Minister Jeanie McLean (formerly Dendys) speaks during legislative assembly in Whitehorse on Nov. 27, 2017. The Yukon government has announced $2.8 million in tourism relief funding aimed at businesses in the accommodation sector that have already maxed out existing funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tourism relief funding offers $2.8 million to hotels and overnight accommodations

$15 million in relief funding is planned for the tourism sector over the next three years

The Whitehorse sewage lagoons photographed in 2011. With new regulations for wastewater anticipated to be introduced by the federal government within the next decade, the City of Whitehorse may soon be doing some prep work by looking at exactly what type of pollutants are making their way into the city’s wastewater. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Pondering pollutants

City could spend $70,000 looking at what contaminents are in waste water

Most of Whitehorse Individual Learning Centre’s class of 2020 graduates. The former students were welcomed back and honoured by staff at the school on Oct. 14 with a personalized grad ceremony for each graduate. (Submitted)
Individual Learning Centre grads honoured

Members of the Whitehorse Individual Learning Centre’s class of 2020 were welcomed… Continue reading

Benjamin Munn, 12, watches the HPV vaccine in 2013. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available to all Yukoners up to, and including, age 26. Currently the program is only available to girls ages nine to 18 and boys ages nine to 14. (Dan Bates/Black Press file)
HPV vaccine will be available to Yukoners up to, including, age 26

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

COMMENTARY: Me and systemic racism

The view from a place of privilege

Today’s mailbox: Electricity and air travel

Letters to the editor published Oct. 23, 2020

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Irony versus Climate

Lately it seems like Irony has taken over as Editor-in-Chief at media… Continue reading

Evan Lafreniere races downhill during the U Kon Echelon Halloweeny Cross-Country Race on Oct. 16. (Inara Barker/Submitted)
Costumed bike race marks end of season

The U Kon Echelon Bike Club hosted its final race of the… Continue reading

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, right, before question period at the Yukon legislative assembly in Whitehorse on March 7, 2019. The Yukon government announced Oct. 19 it has increased the honoraria rates for school council members. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Honoraria increased for school council members

Members of school councils throughout the territory could soon receive an increased… Continue reading

Most Read