The Victoria Day long weekend is upon us, marking the unofficial start to the summer. Many Canadians choose to spend the weekend with a cold beer in hand. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario says sales typically increase 30 per cent on long weekends, with Friday marking the high point for sales. Hence the popular nickname in some regions -- “May two-four weekend” – after the nickname for a case of suds. But the fractious nature of the Canadian beer retailing industry means prices are generally all over the map, with the Maritimes bearing the highest beer burden. Below is an unscientific selection of how much a case of 24 Molson Canadians will run you from coast to coast, from the best deal to the biggest gouge.
Quebec’s relatively liberal beer retailing system helps it headline the list, with a case of beer coming in at $30.99 at the local IGA, working out to just shy of $1.30 a beer. The low prices in Quebec helped incite a Supreme Court beer battle, after a New Brunswick man was fined $292.50 for bringing beer bought in Quebec back to his home province.
British Columbia: $32.99
B.C. has a hybrid public-private system of beer retailing, landing somewhere between Quebec’s open market and Ontario’s beer & liquor monopolies. A case of Canadian through the provincially-controlled stores will run you $32.99, which further liberalized liquor laws earlier this year on a number of fronts, including allowing barbershops and book stores to apply for a liquor license.
Heading down to the local Winnipeg Liquor Mart, which is owned by a provincial Crown Corporation, a 24 of Canadian will set you back $1.51 a beer. The Manitoba Liberals pledged to privatize liquor retailing in the province if elected last year, but the idea fell flat when the Progressive Conservative party swept to power.
Alberta: $39.99 (on sale, from $47.99)
Alberta climbs to fourth spot on account of a May Long Weekend sale, but the province’s prices are highly variable in the absence of a provincial body. Aggressive discounting is both common due to competitive pressures and a welcome relief for Albertans looking to pick up a flat. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives noted in a 2016 report that a lack of scale drives up costs for private retailers and final prices in those systems are “greatly variable and generally higher than a public monopoly can achieve.”
Ontario’s beer duopoly leaves it solidly in the middle of the road, with a 2-4 running just shy of $42. The province’s Beer Store is owned by a cabal of foreign breweries, after a string of M&A activity in the beer space saw the nation’s largest brewers fall into foreign hands.
New Brunswick: $43.00
New Brunswick actually has it best among the Maritime provinces when it comes to the cost of beer. Canada has promised to review the flow of beer across provincial borders as part of its internal free trade agreement, but it remains exempt from the terms of the agreement in the interim.
Nova Scotia: $43.98
One province over, you’ll have to pony up an extra dollar a case. The provincial crown corporation controls the bulk of the province’s booze, with 103 retail stores stocking more than 5,000 products.
Saskatchewan is in the process of sweeping reforms to its liquor retailing system, embarking on a major privatization overhaul. Beer in the province has traditionally been sold in either urban, government-run stores or rural licensees.
Canada’s smallest province bears the second-highest costs, distributing its beer through a combination of provincially-run stores and a number of licensees.
Newfoundland & Labrador: $48.80
Newfoundland takes the inauspicious bottom slot, with the cost of a Canadian cresting two bucks a bottle.