Saskatchewan (Somewhat) Modernizes Liquor Policies

Blog, Commentary, Regulation, Steve Lafleur

Saskatchewan has some of the most restrictive liquor policies in the developed world. It doesn’t seem to do much to reduce drinking and driving, or problem drinking in general, but it does disproportionately tax young adults and the poor.

While the provincial government seems reluctant to make changes that will reduce the cost of alcohol, wine, or beer, they have introduced some modest changes to update the provinces out of date liquor laws. Among the 70 plus regulatory changes are allowing alcohol in salons, spas, and movie theatres, as well as allowing consumer to bring their own wine to restaurants. While these aren’t the type of regulatory changes that will have a noticeable effect on people’s day to day lives, it is nice to see that the province is expanding consumer choice to adults who want to have a beer with a movie, or a wine at the spa.

There are two changes that aren’t generating headlines that are far more important than the above. The first is that brewpubs can double the amount of beer they produce annually. For those of us who enjoy craft beer, this is welcome news. The second is that off-sales will be expanded to restaurants and taverns. This is a simple matter of fairness. There is no compelling reason why hotels should be able to offer off-sales, but not restaurants and taverns (especially those that make the effort to provide specialty beer and wines).

The Frontier Centre has been leading the discussion on liquor policy for over a decade. In 2000 we began arguing that Saskatchewan should follow Alberta’s lead and privatize liquor distribution. We have subsequently authored several articles, and a comprehensive study on Saskatchewan liquor policy in 2009. More recently, we hosted a liquor policy panel at the University of Regina in October where we brought industry members and policy experts together to discuss the provinces liquor laws.

The provincial government still has a long way to go in modernizing its liquor laws, but we are encouraged that there has been some movement on this file. When governments make regulatory changes, it is usually because public policy has shifted. We are glad to have played a part in advancing the public discussion on the issue, and will continue pressing for less restrictive liquor laws.