Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission

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The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (or AGLC) is an agent of the Government of the Canadian province of Alberta, and regulates alcoholic beverage and gaming-related activities. The AGLC was created in 1996 by combining the responsibilities and operations of the Alberta Liquor Control Board (ALCB), Alberta Lotteries, the Alberta Gaming Commission, Alberta Lotteries and Gaming and the Gaming Control Branch. The current Chief Executive Officer (as of 2012) is Bill Robinson.

Alberta is currently the only Canadian province to have enacted completely privatized liquor retailing. All other provinces maintain government ownership and control over much of the liquor industry, especially with respect to distilled spirits. This privatization was carried out in late 1993 and early 1994 under the auspices of one of the AGLC's predecessors, the ALCB.

History[edit]

The sale and distribution of beverage alcohol in Alberta had been conducted privately, under licence until 1916 when, during the height of the Prohibition movement, the Liberal government called a plebiscite in which Albertans voted in favour of the Liquor Act, which banned the sale of alcohol in the province.

As was the case throughout North America, Prohibition proved to be an utter farce in Alberta. However, the United Farmers government that replaced the Liberals in 1921 knew that the still-powerful temperance movement would have to be appeased, so when they called a new plebiscite to repeal Prohibition in 1924, they promised that the sale of alcoholic beverages would be tightly controlled. When the plebiscite passed and Prohibition was repealed, the Liquor Act was replaced by the Liquor Control Act and the Alberta Liquor Control Board was created. The first hotels to be re-licensed were the Palliser Hotel in Calgary and the MacDonald Hotel in Edmonton.

The ALCB would maintain tight control over the Albertan liquor industry for the next seven decades. Hotels that met the strict requirements for a liquor licence had to adhere to strict rules regarding the décor, cleanliness and aura of the establishment. According to historian David Leonard, the idea was to make drinking establishments as sparse as possible. Patrons were not allowed to stand up with their drinks in hand and entertainment in a licensed beverage room was prohibited. Although women were allowed to drink alongside their male counterparts at first, "mixed" drinking was later blamed for riotous behaviour, and in 1928 the Liquor Control Act was amended so that special rooms had to be created for "Ladies and Escorts." In the 1930s, the ALCB hired armed officers to enforce the Liquor Control Act. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police would assume enforcement duties after taking over provincial policing duties from the Alberta Provincial Police in 1932.

Beer off-sales were permitted from hotels starting in 1934, however the sale of wine and hard liquor remained more tightly controlled. As was the case in most Canadian provinces, the only legal way to purchase spirits in Alberta was to travel to a deliberately uninviting ALCB store, where the customer must apply on a paper form indicating what they wanted to purchase. The requested product was then fetched by a staff member after the customer's age was carefully checked. The ALCB did not permit individualized packaging for wine or spirits. It purchased wine and spirits from wineries and distillers in bulk barrels, then bottled them into stone jars and bottles with the ALCB brand for resale in stores. ALCB stores were few and far between (especially in rural areas), and spirits were frequently watered down prior to bottling[citation needed].

A Social Credit government would assume office in 1935, going on to dominate Albertan politics for the next three decades. The socially conservative governments of Premiers William Aberhart and Ernest Manning were slower to relax liquor laws compared to most of their contemporaries in other provinces. In one notable policy, the Social Credit government refused to licence commercial airlines during their tenure and took vigorous steps to ensure that commercial flights were not serving alcohol whilst travelling through Alberta airspace.

The Albertan government and ALCB began loosening some restrictions in the 1950s and 1960s. Clubs and canteens could be licensed from 1950 onwards. In a 1957 plebiscite, voters in and near Edmonton and Calgary voted overwhelmingly to de-segregate beverage rooms, however men and women would not be allowed to drink together province-wide until 1967. Having repealed the requirement for customer signatures on counter slips to purchase alcohol in 1965, in 1969 the ALCB opened its first self-serve liquor store in Edmonton. By 1970 the ALCB was no longer bottling products and commercial product packaging became normal.

The Progressive Conservative government replaced the Socreds in 1971, and moved to loosen restrictions further, lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18. Although some Albertan MLA's since then have mooted raising the drinking age back to 19 to match the laws of neighbouring British Columbia and Saskatchewan,[citation needed] the lower drinking age remains in effect as of 2009. Responsibility for domestic beer warehousing was transferred to the Alberta Brewers' Agents Limited in 1973.

The 1980s would see restrictions relaxed further, with the first wine stores licensed in 1985 and the first hotel-based cold beer stores approved in 1988. In 1990 hotel off-sales expanded from beer only to beer, wine and spirits.

Privatization[edit]

The complete privatization of Albertan liquor retailing following former Calgary mayor Ralph Klein's assumption of the premiership in 1992 is the most notable event in the ALCB's history, and for many Canadians it is also the most controversial event in the recent history of alcoholic beverage distribution in Canada. Klein promised Albertan voters the liquor industry would be privatized if he was elected in the 1993 election. After he won the election, the Klein government carried out the privatization almost immediately.

Under Municipal Affairs Minister Steve West, privatization was carried out in a strictly business-like manner. [2] The 202 ALCB liquor stores were systematically sold off. Where private interests believed an existing ALCB store could be profitably operated as a privately owned liquor store, the store continued to operate under new ownership. Liquor stores that were not economically viable in the private sector were closed down with the properties sold to the highest bidder. Between September 4, 1993, and March 5, 1994, every ALCB store was either sold or shut down. With respect to the ALCB stores that were converted to private liquor stores, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees was denied successor rights to the private stores. Whereas all non-management ALCB employees in 1993 belonged to the AUPE, as of 2006 no privately owned liquor store is known to have become unionized except for those owned and operated by Loblaws under the Real Canadian Liquorstore and those owned and operated by Safeway in their grocery stores.

The ALCB initially retained warehousing and distribution responsibilities for wine, coolers, imported beer and spirits. The warehousing operation was contracted out to a private operator, Connect Logistics in June 1994. Connect Logistics leased the ALCB's existing warehouse in St. Albert and continues to warehouse all wine, coolers, imported beer and spirits legally sold in Alberta. Domestic beer is warehoused and distributed by Brewer's Distributor Limited. The AUPE was again denied successor rights to the Connect Logistics-operated warehouse and the warehouse thus became a non-union operation.

Privatization was controversial, attracting criticism from people who worried about the social costs of liquor privatization.

It is worth noting that ALCB workers had taken strike action earlier in 1993 causing an interruption in service at liquor stores. Compared to other Canadian provinces, Albertans are generally seen as less friendly to unions, and many Albertans were disappointed by what they interpreted as the union's lack of concern for Albertans' social lives (the strike over the Victoria Day weekend).[citation needed] Some Alberta labour leaders continue to view the privatization as a retaliation against a legal strike. It is still debated whether this strike directly influenced the Tories' election promise and subsequent decision to privatize liquor store, or influenced some Albertans to vote for Klein as a result.

Distribution delays by Connect Logistics became a problem in 2006 with complaints from liquor retailers that they weren't receiving stock on-time and had empty shelves as a result. Some retailers also initiated legal action against the AGLC.

In response, the AGLC hired a 3rd-party consultant, Price Waterhouse Coopers, to review the province's liquor distribution system. The report was publicly released in March 2007. The complete report can be found on the AGLC's website. [3]

The report did not make any drastic recommendations on how liquor products are distributed in Alberta. It recommended that Connect Logistics remain in its role and continue to warehouse and distribute wine, spirits, and imported beer to maintain "stability" in the system. The biggest difference in this arrangement would now require a formalized contract between Connect Logistics and the AGLC including "performance indicators" for things like consumer service and on-time delivery.

One of the more controversial recommendations was for a new warehouse pricing system. In July 2007, the AGLC approved the new prices for storage, warehousing and distribution. Connect Logistics claims the new prices better reflect the actual handling costs of each product. Some managers of smaller liquor stores believed that the system worked to the advantage of larger operators.

Over the 2007 Christmas season, the stories of empty liquor store shelves and product shortages disappeared from the media as shelves remained stocked.

The AGLC today[edit]

Although Alberta has deregulated its retail liquor industry to a greater extent compared to any other province, its Connect Logistics-administered monopoly on the wholesaling of wine and distilled spirits is comparable to the systems which in the U.S. would be considered an alcoholic beverage control state. This means that by U.S. standards, Alberta would be defined as a "control" jurisdiction.

When the U.S. abolished Prohibition in 1933 the bordering U.S. state of Montana modelled its own liquor control board on the one in place in Alberta. [4] Interestingly, Montana has made similar changes to Alberta over the years and its present liquor distribution system is still very similar to the present Albertan system. It is considered to be one of the 18 "control" states in the U.S.

In recent years disorderly conduct at and near licensed establishments was identified as a growing problem, particularly in the major cities. The province's economic boom and the resulting affluence of its youth were identified as the root cause of the increase in binge drinking. Some blamed inadequate restrictions on alcohol sales in establishments (compared to other provinces) as contributing to the problem. In July 2008, the Alberta government responded to complaints by police and other groups[1] by introducing new regulations to restrict the sale of alcohol in restaurants and bars. Among other things, as of August 1, 2008: [5] and [6]

  • Happy hours will still be allowed, but they can no longer run past 8 p.m. Drinks sold after this time must be sold for the establishment's regular menu price, thus all-night drink specials which entail selling certain categories of drink for a discount will no longer be legal.
  • Minimum prices will be introduced. Alcoholic beverages may not be sold for below these minimums at any time. They will vary by beverage:
    • $2.75 per ounce for spirits and liqueurs.
    • $0.35 per ounce for wine (i.e. $1.75 for a five-ounce glass).
    • $0.16 per ounce for draught beer (i.e. $3.20 for a twenty-ounce pint).
    • $2.75 per 12 ounce bottle or can of beer, cider or coolers.
  • The number and size of drinks that can be sold to a patron after 1 a.m. will be limited to two standard servings per order - one standard serving being defined as one ounce of distilled spirit or one bottle or can of beer.
  • Possession of more than two drinks after 1 a.m. in a licensed establishment will be prohibited.

The AGLC will be responsible for enforcing the new rules.

In response to the above industry concerns, the AGLC instituted a certification course called ProServe [7]. Proserve covers symptoms of intoxication, liquor law, identifying minors, dealing with intoxicated people, and other issues that a licensed establishment may face. As of January 1, 2010, all people selling and serving liquor must be certified.

On November 26, 2010, the AGLC temporarily halted registration of beers with an alcohol content higher than 11.9% (while allowing current retail stocks to still be sold). [8] The restriction was lifted 3 weeks later on December 16, 2010, once a new policy had been developed to deal with a potential influx of ultra-high alcohol beers. The new policy equalized markup rates so that high-alcohol beers were treated the same as other liquor products with similar alcohol levels.

Organization and Mandate[edit]

The AGLC consists of a Board and a Corporation. The Corporation acts as the operational arm of the organization, while the Board is responsible for reflecting the government's direction through policy and regulatory matters.[2]

Although liquor is retailed in Alberta by private interests on a competitive basis, like its predecessor the AGLC has maintained a monopoly over the wholesaling of wine, coolers, imported beer and spirits. The AGLC is the wholesale-level purchaser of these products and thus Albertan liquor taxes (which are still high compared to taxes in the U.S.) are termed as the liquor markup. The wholesaling operation itself is mostly handled by Connect Logistics, a contract distributor based in St. Albert. Maintaining a monopoly over the wholesale business allows the AGLC to maintain tighter controls over liquor distribution than an entirely privatized system would allow. In particular it allows the Government of Alberta to ensure that it does not miss out on any "markup" (the bulk of the liquor tax in any Canadian province, including Alberta is the provincial liquor markup).

Between 1999 and 2006 the AGLC operated as part of the Ministry of Gaming. When Ed Stelmach became Premier, he restructured government so there were fewer ministries and ministers. The Ministry of Gaming was abolished following December 2006's reorganization and the AGLC was assigned to "report through" the Solicitor General and Minister of Public Security, at the time Frank Oberle. The AGLC later reported via the Ministry of Finance (Ron Liepert), and currently (as of February 2013) reports through the President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance (Doug Horner).

References[edit]

  1. ^ “These changes have great potential to reduce the public order problems associated with binge drinking,” says Mike Shymka, Vice Chair of the AHLA [1]. “Most of us would never guzzle a tray full of cheap highballs just before closing time, but many of us have shared a sidewalk with someone who has. These new changes should make closing times outside bars a lot more peaceful.”
  2. ^ http://aglc.ca/aboutus/organization.asp

External links[edit]