Commission suggests Quebec end liquor monopoly
Alexandre Robillard, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, August 31, 2015 5:24PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, August 31, 2015 5:53PM EDT
Quebec should liberalize its liquor monopoly and consider giving its tax-collecting powers to Ottawa in order to scale back the size of government and reduce costs, a commission reviewing provincial programs says.
The commission's final report, published Monday, says Quebec should maintain its government-run liquor stores -- which currently account for 90% of total wine and hard liquor revenues -- but also make room for private sales, which would be subject to a special liquor tax.
Former federal and provincial Liberal cabinet minister Lucienne Robillard headed the commission, which concluded Quebec spends too much money managing its liquor monopoly due to the fact 21 per cent of net sales are eaten by administrative costs.
Robillard's report says the $1-billion profit returned to the province from liquor sales likely peaked in the last fiscal year and Quebec needs to find ways to liberalize the system in order to make up the projected shortfall.
She told reporters Monday government selling alcohol is a vestige of the days of prohibition.
"We rarely see, as citizens, monopolies being in our best interests," she said.
The report also targeted Quebec's revenue department by suggesting the government consider transferring some of its tax-collecting powers to the federal government.
Doing so would save roughly $392 million but the report also warns the province would lose about $700 million if it gives up its ability to go after tax cheats.
Robillard admitted, however, that the subject of giving powers to Ottawa is a delicate one in Quebec.
"It's clear that it's a sensitive question," Robillard said, noting Quebec began collecting its own taxes during the days of premier Maurice Duplesis in the 1950s.
Premier Philippe Couillard told reporters in Newfoundland on Monday the government would take their time to study the report, including the tax collection suggestion.
"There is no question of giving away the capacity of Quebec to guarantee its fiscal and financial autonomy," Couillard said. "We have to be able to make all our choices at all times, and that's clear."
Couillard did leave the door open to looking at the mechanics of tax-collecting to see if money can be saved by giving some tax duties to the federal government.
Asked whether Quebecers could be filling out one tax form instead of two by the end of his mandate, Couillard wouldn't rule out anything.
"If it's advantageous for Quebec, it's possible," he said.
Quebec Treasury Board President Martin Coiteux said the government will examine the report's recommendations on ending the liquor monopoly, but says the liquor board needs to cut administrative costs in the meantime.
He also said the government's revenue department should also look at ways of reducing expenses, adding he'll study ways Quebec could delegate some tax-collecting authority to Ottawa.
Coiteux insisted, however, the importance of Quebec preserving the principle of fiscal autonomy from the federal government.
The advisory committee was set up last summer by the Liberal government to help find savings as it works to balance the budget and made several recommendations last November.