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Controversy brewing over beer regulations

Fort Langley-Aldergrove MLA Rich Coleman is caught up in a controversy over a possible change to liquor rules, which prompted concerns from fellow Liberal MLAs.

Coleman, minister responsible for liquor policy,  is looking into easing taxation for medium-sized breweries, notably Pacific Western Brewery of Prince George. A pending change in regulations prompted members of the National Breweries Association, which represents large brewers, to contact MLAs. There are two large breweries in B.C. — Molson Coors in Vancouver, and Columbia Brewing in Creston, owned by Labatts, which in turn is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Pacific Western, which was originally the Uncle Ben’s Brewery, is the largest medium-size brewer in B.C. If it exceeds 160,000 hectolitres of production in a year, the tax rate on all its production would go up. The large brewers pay the higher tax. Lower tax rates on smaller production volumes were brought in to encourage craft breweries, which have th rived in B.C.

Coleman said Wednesday that he would be issuing a new regulation Thursday, but on Thursday reporters were told it would not be issued that day. He did issue a new regulation Monday, which calls for the mark-up rate to increase incrementally between annual production of 160,000 and 300,000 hectolitres.

The change moderates the mark-up rates in a manner that will help small breweries to grow, a government press release said.

Seven B.C.-based breweries are in a position to benefit from the revised mark-up rate, the press release stated.

Part of the controversy comes from the fact that Pacific Western president  Kazuko Komatsu donated two week-long stays in The Bahamas as auction items at Coleman’s Nov. 8 fundraiser at the Langley Events Centre. The two week-long stays were valued at $27,000, although they didn’t fetch that much during the auction.

Pacific Western beer was also available at the fundraiser. It is always available at Coleman events.

— with files from Tom Fletcher, Black Press

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