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by Deborah Shawcross

That cold beer waiting for you at home could cost you less thanks to the Saskatchewan government budget. The government plans to increase the beer discount to off-sale retailers by 62 per cent.

This $5.1 million increase in retail profit will trickle down to consumers in the form of lower prices, private vendors have promised. 

It has been a long time coming as hoteliers and off-sale retailers have not see an increase in beer discounts since 1993. Minister Tim McMillan, who is responsible for the Liquor and Gaming Authority, says that since 1993 hoteliers have seen their fixed discount erode over time.

He believes the new discount will bring hoteliers back to that level they enjoyed 18 years ago. But that renewed success will not be limited to businesses alone, he said.

"I met with the hotelier association and they assure that some of this will be passed down to customers," said McMillan.

Tom Mullin, president and CEO of the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association, says the prices of beer will fall if the discount is increased. Hoteliers will also be more competitive with Liquor Board stores, he said.

"Our ability to compete with government liquor stores is now advanced a little bit cause we feel that now with the discount in place we can be more competitive with government stores and that has been the issue for the last ten years," said Mullin.

But beer enthusiasts shouldn't celebrate just yet. There's no guarantee the discount will result in lower beer prices. MLA Deb Higgins is skeptical of the promised consumer benefits.

"That isn't even a reduced price that people are going to see around the province. That is directly to the hoteliers and people who own and operate the off sales," said Higgins.

SGEU president Bob Bymoen agrees beer drinkers may have little to celebrate. Bymoen, who represents workers at provincially owned liquor stores, is concerned about where the money is going and who it is supporting.

"Well it's obviously going to move some money out of the liquor stores and into the private sector hands. And that's money that gets used for building our roads and paying for education and funding. It's one more step for this government to transfer the wealth from individuals to corporations," said Bymoen.

Higgins said she is baffled by the fact that the beer discount will cost the government $5.1 million while housing only received $1.7 million across the whole province.

"When we are looking at a 62 per cent increase and the discrepancies in other services that are going directly to Saskatchewan families, it's a little bit off balance for sure," said Higgins.

There are approximately 450 licensed hotels and off-sale retailers in Saskatchewan, many of which are located outside of Regina and Saskatoon. It is now a waiting game to see if this new beer discount is actually beneficial to communities or if it is just a bad brew.

Photo by Deborah Shawcross