Does it cost more to buy wine in B.C.?

Does it cost more to buy wine in B.C.?

A small, anecdotal comparison shopping experience says “Yes”.

(With apologies, herewith another wine price comparison article. It’s unscientific, but illustrative, and a good reminder of how much British Columbians pay for beverage alcohol.)

I visited my brother and family in southern Ontario over the Christmas holidays, and to improve my chances of being invited back next year, I bought some wine for the house.  We picked up seven bottles from the local Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) store. As we walked out, I said to my brother, “I’m sure this is cheaper than it would be in BC.”

So I decided to find out. When I got home I went on and noted the prices for each wine.  Fortunately, all brands I bought in Ontario are available here in British Columbia (the same or comparable vintages are on the shelves in each province).  Comparing the prices yields the results below.  I removed bottle deposits, so prices shown below are list prices for each wine in each jurisdiction.  The LCBO “basket” comes out slightly ahead, at $116.80, compared to the BCLS basket at $120.43.  In fact, three of the wines are slightly lower priced in BC: Louis Martini Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and the two Vielle Ferme bottles.

(post continues below table)

Comparative prices LCBO and BCLS 
Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir 18.75 18.99
Jacob's Creek Moscato 11.25 11.99
Louis M Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 37.75 35.99
La Vielle Ferme Cotes du Ventoux rouge 12.25 11.99
La Vielle Ferme Cotes du Luberon blanc 12.25 11.99
Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut Cava 13.30 15.49
Trapiche Reserve Malbec 11.25 13.99
116.80 120.43


So far so good: not much to distinguish BC monopoly retailer prices from Ontario monopoly retailer prices. However, the previous BC government’s changes resulting from the Liquor Policy Review of 2014-15 permitted retailers to ADD SALES TAX AT THE TILL, which the BCLS promptly did. So, to be absolutely certain I was comparing “grapes to grapes”, I bought the same basket of wines here, from my local BC Government Liquor Store (BCLS), and then added in the BC tax. (LCBO retail prices include HST of 13%).*  Once 15% is added (10% BC PST on liquor and 5% GST), the BC total rises to $139.51.  That’s about a 19.5% difference in the price at the till between LCBO in Ontario and BCLS in British Columbia.

Wine BCLS List Price BC Tax (15%) BC Total at Till
Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir 18.99 2.85 21.84
Jacob's Creek Moscato 11.99 1.92 13.91
Louis M Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 35.99 5.76 41.75
La Vielle Ferme Cotes du Ventoux rouge 11.99 1.92 13.91
La Vielle Ferme Cotes du Luberon blanc 11.99 1.92 13.91
Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut Cava 15.49 2.48 17.97
Trapiche Reserve Malbec 13.99 2.24 16.23
120.43 19.08 139.51


So, this provides yet more anecdotal evidence that international wines imported to Canadian provinces can be more expensive in BC (not always the case, but to avoid nasty surprises it’s worth remembering that tax is added at the till).

Is there a reliable way to cross-check the findings?  Fortunately yes. In 2017, an analysis was conducted of the average price changes for liquor sold in BC prior to and after the Liquor Policy Review changes brought in by the previous government.  The unattributed analysis (conducted privately for the BC government, one wonders?) reports an average increase of 11% across all beverage alcohol categories. For wine, a basket of 51 randomly chosen wines were shown to have experienced a 12.5% price increase. (The above hyperlinked extract was helpfully provided in the Canadian Competition Bureau’s January 2019 Open Letter to BC’s Attorney General David Eby urging fair competitive principles in further liquor reform.)

Most Canadian wine lovers appreciate that a share of the “sin taxes” they pay on alcohol go to support social and health programs in their respective provinces. How do these compare? In 2017-18, the LCBO transferred a dividend of $2.12 billion to the Ontario government.  In 2017-2018 the BC Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) transferred a dividend of $1.10 billion to the BC government. On a per-capita basis in 2017-18, each Ontarian contributed $149 to the LCBO’s dividend to the Ontario Crown, while each British Columbian contributed $228 to the BCLDB’s dividend to the BC Crown. Despite BC’s much smaller population and economy, British Columbians contributed 53% more than Ontarians – on a per-capita basis – to their respective governments through their liquor purchases. Is this right and appropriate public policy?  Open question…

At least we can adequately answer the question posed at the top, over time and space: Are wines more expensive in BC than before? On average, Yes. (Certainly exceeding inflation in the BC Service Plan analysis).  Are wines more expensive in BC than Ontario? A provisional Yes to that as well. Some international wines do have lower prices in BC than other Canadian provinces, and possibly other jurisdictions around the world (hard as that is to imagine).  But in my small comparison here, buying wine at the monopoly retailer in Ontario doesn’t hit the wallet as hard as it does at the monopoly retailer in BC.


*Additional factors are at play in arriving at the final retail price in each province (such as different markup rates and structures) which outside the scope here.