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HomeMiscellanyB.C. wine store auction fails the transparency test

B.C. wine store auction fails the transparency test

Bob Mackin

Whenever British Columbia’s government uses the word transparent, always take it with a grain of salt. Then ask questions. 

Last Nov. 3, it said it pulled in more than $6.9 million after auctioning six special wine store licences. Bidding started at $125,000 per licence.

Minister Polak purchasing plonk at a Loblaw-owned store (BC Gov)

Grocery and pharmacy giant Loblaw Companies snagged all six via the government’s B.C. Auction agency from April 19 to May 5 last year. The government claimed the online auction was “evaluated by a third-party auditing firm to ensure the process was fair and transparent.”

theBreaker wanted to find out just how transparent the process was, and asked for reports on each auction and the evaluations by the third-party firm. 

Via freedom of information, the government released a two-page, May 20 letter from Shane Troyer at Grant Thornton to the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch and a two-page May 25 report. Partially censored, of course. No information about the bidders or their bids was released at all. 

Grant Thornton generally gave the process a thumbs up. Whatever problems that existed have been censored from the report that was released to theBreaker. Grant Thornton admits its procedures did not follow a standard Chartered Professional Accountants Handbook audit. 

So was the process transparent? 

No.

Another round of auctions was scheduled for December.

Sixteen B.C. grocery stores have opened B.C.-only wine departments since laws were changed in April 2015, 11 of which are Jim Pattison-owned Save-On-Foods. Loblaw-owned stores in Kelowna, Langford, Langley, Surrey and Vernon are the other five. 

Grocery stores with aspirations to sell booze are hampered by the one-kilometre buffer zone to protect existing government and private liquor stores from competition. That explains why none are in Vancouver.

Speaking of competition, the protectionist, B.C.-only wine departments are the subject of the United States’ January complaint to the World Trade Organization

Wine Store Licence Auction FOI by BobMackin on Scribd