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Low Spirits

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P>All the liquor and spirits industry wants is a fair shake in B.C.

Two representatives from Spirits Canada, the Association of Canadian Distillers, dropped by the Pique office Tuesday morning to talk about the problems facing of the industry in B.C.

The first problem, they said, is one of perception. The second is a question of equal treatment. The third is matter of taxation. The fourth is a matter of history.

They said they were touring the province to make their case, and that Whistler was the first stop on their tour.

Then, presumably, they went skiing.

The representatives were Jan H. Westcott, the president and CEO of Spirits Canada, and C.J. Helie, the executive vice president – hardly what you would call lightweights. The companies they represent – such as Bacardi Canada, Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, Hiram Walker & Sons – sell 13.5 million nine-litre cases of distilled spirits in Canada each year, although more than 85 per cent of their products are exported around the world. That’s more than $11 billion worth of spirits in Canada, more than 80 per cent of which goes to federal and provincial taxes.

Important men… so what the hell are they doing going door to door, from media outlet to media outlet, to talk about the issues facing the spirits industry in the province? Obviously because they feel the issues are that important.

"We decided to make a point of coming to B.C. and chatting up the media a little," says Westcott. "There are a number of political changes in B.C. we’re trying to understand, to get a better sense of what it means to our industry.

"We started in Whistler because this is a particular part of B.C. where there’s a transient population, good sales, good competition between retailers, and an international clientele."

According to Westcott, the Gordon Campbell government has talked about the importance of attracting investment to B.C. and making things easier for B.C. businesses, and one business that he would like to see benefit from these changes is the spirits industry.

"More than any other business, we rely on government to operate," says Helie. "We’re heavily taxed, heavily regulated, heavily controlled. We have to work with government if we want to improve our economic prospects in B.C."

Spirits Canada believes that their brands are under performing in B.C. in comparison to the rest of Canada, and they attribute the decline to outdated government and Liquor Distribution Board policies and the resulting perception that spirits are somehow more dangerous than beer and wine.

"B.C. used to be the best performing market in Canada in terms of spirits, but over the last five years this was dropping. Now it’s fifth or sixth in Canada," says Westcott.

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