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‘I Haven’t Even Taken a Salary’: Small Distillers Say New Ontario Liquor Tax Will Kill Them



The good news for Charles Benoît, the scrappy young lawyer and co-founder of The Toronto Distillery Co., is that he won his constitutional crusade against the Ontario government. The bad news is that it will probably put him out of business.

Ontario regulations currently force distillers that sell through stores on their premises to hand over more than two thirds of their revenue in tax, mostly to the province. In court earlier this year, Benoît called the tax unconstitutional because it had not been passed by the legislature.

A judge ruled for the province; even so, Ontario conceded the principle, and promised legislation.

Last week, Ontario tabled the new bill, and it’s bad news if it passes. Bill 70 will impose a 61.5-per-cent sales tax — a slight improvement on the existing rate — for spirits sold at distillery shops. Distillers also have to pay excise tax and HST, plus a bottle levy, container deposit and environmental fee.

“If this tax passes, we’ll close down Jan. 31,” said Benoît, whose distillery turns local juniper berries into gin, uses local beets to make spirits, and ferments local grain for whisky.

It’s perhaps even more unfair because favourable Ontario tax rules in recent years have helped create a thriving industry in craft beer and startup wineries.

Microbrewers pay 33 cents per litre in tax, compared with 80 cents for large brewers, and wineries pay just a 6.1-per-cent tax on bottles they sell at vineyard shops. Ontario now has more than 100 wineries and 70 craft breweries.

Meanwhile, the province’s 15 craft distillers pay the same tax rates as big distillers, which has left them struggling to get a toehold.

For instance, Marcel Rheault, a craft distiller in Hearst, Ont., who has had an international hit with his Loon Vodka — he cooks Ontario wheat and distils it four times, the fourth time in a mixture with milk to remove impurities — still has to distil out of his home, about 1,000 kilometres north of Toronto. He can’t afford to open a distillery, since he remits most of his revenue in tax.

“I pay $500,000 in taxes and get $200,000 in my pocket,” he said. “And from that, I have to make payments on a $500,000 still. It’s ridiculous. I’m in my fourth year and I haven’t even taken a salary.

“They gave me a premier’s award for innovation of $25,000,” he added. “I said, ‘Thanks. It’s the first time I’ve made any money.’ ”

To pay less tax, Rheault has decided to export to China and the U.S., and stop most sales in Canada.

Kelsey Ingram, a spokeswoman for Charles Sousa, Ontario’s finance minister, insisted via email that the new law will help distillers by increasing their sales commission from 13 per cent to about 20 per cent. She added, “We are also proposing to help distillers by giving them a tax exemption on up to 1,250 litres of spirits for promotional purposes.”

Craft distillers want Ontario to adopt the same model found in B.C., which changed its rules in 2013. There, craft distilleries do not pay a provincial markup on the first 50,000 litres they sell in their own shops, at private liquor stores or at farmers’ markets, provided they distil the spirits from B.C. grain or fruit.

“It took 10 years of lobbying,” said Tyler Dyck, owner of Okanagan Spirits, B.C.’s biggest craft distillery, and head of the Craft Distillers’ Guild of B.C. “Finally, we were able to get rules that line up with wineries.”

In the three years since B.C.’s changes, 30 craft distilleries have opened in the province, attracting tourists, employing skilled workers and processing lots of local fruit and grain.

“The B.C. government said, ‘We’ve tried taxing the hell out of this industry and it hasn’t worked,’” Dyck said. “Now they are quite happy to take a smaller piece of the pie, but the pie has grown. In the end, the Ontario government is going to look out at B.C. and say, ‘We’re missing out on something.’ ”

Financial Post

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How Canadian churches are helping their communities cope with the wildfires



As wildfires burn across Canada, churches are finding ways to support their members and the broader community directly impacted by the crisis.

According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, as of June 13, there are 462 active fires across Canada – and 236 of them classified as out of control fires.

Whether it’s through phone calls or donations to community members, here’s how a few churches across Canada are handling active wildfires and the aftermath in their regions.

Westwood Hills, N.S.: St. Nicholas Anglican Church

In Nova Scotia, St. Nicholas Anglican Church and other churches in the area are collecting money for grocery cards to give to families impacted by the Tantallon wildfire. 

Right outside of Halifax, N.S., the Tantallon wildfire destroyed 151 homes. More than 16,000 people evacuated the area due to the fire.

The fire is now considered contained, but Tanya Moxley, the treasurer at St. Nicholas is organizing efforts to get grocery gift cards into the hands of impacted families.

As of June 12, four churches in the area – St. Nicholas, Parish of French Village, St Margaret of Scotland and St John the Evangelist – raised nearly $3,500. The money will be split for families’ groceries between five schools in the area impacted by the wildfire.

Moxley said she felt driven to raise this money after she heard the principal of her child’s school was using his own money to buy groceries for impacted families in their area.

“[For] most of those people who were evacuated, the power was off in their subdivision for three, four or five days,” she said. “Even though they went home and their house was still standing, the power was off and they lost all their groceries.”

Moxley said many people in the area are still “reeling” from the fires. She said the church has an important role to help community members during this time.

“We’re called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless and all that stuff, right? So this is it. This is like where the rubber hits the road.”

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Is it ever OK to steal from a grocery store?



Mythologized in the legend of Robin Hood and lyricized in Les Misérables, it’s a debate as old as time: is it ever permissible to steal food? And if so, under what conditions? Now, amid Canada’s affordability crisis, the dilemma has extended beyond theatrical debate and into grocery stores.

Although the idea that theft is wrong is both a legally enshrined and socially accepted norm, the price of groceries can also feel criminally high to some — industry data shows that grocery stores can lose between $2,000 and $5,000 a week on average from theft. According to Statistics Canada, most grocery item price increases surged by double digits between 2021 and 2022. To no one’s surprise, grocery store theft is reportedly on the rise as a result. And if recent coverage of the issue rings true, some Canadians don’t feel bad about shoplifting. But should they?

Kieran Oberman, an associate professor of philosophy at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom, coined the term “re-distributive theft” in his 2012 paper “Is Theft Wrong?” In simplest terms, redistributive theft is based on the idea that people with too little could ethically take from those who have too much.

“Everybody, when they think about it, accepts that theft is sometimes permissible if you make the case extreme enough,” Oberman tells me over Zoom. “The question is, when exactly is it permissible?”

Almost no one, Oberman argues, believes the current distribution of wealth across the world is just. We have an inkling that theft is bad, but that inequality is too. As more and more Canadians feel the pinch of inflation, grocery store heirs accumulate riches — Loblaw chair and president Galen Weston, for instance, received a 55 percent boost in compensation in 2022, taking in around $8.4 million for the year. Should someone struggling with rising prices feel guilty when they, say, “forget” to scan a bundle of zucchini?
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The homeless refugee crisis in Toronto illustrates Canada’s broken promises



UPDATE 07/18/2023: A coalition of groups arranged a bus to relocate refugees to temporarily stay at a North York church on Monday evening, according to CBC, CP24 and Toronto Star reports.

Canadians live in a time of threadbare morality. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Toronto’s entertainment district, where partygoers delight in spending disposable income while skirting refugees sleeping on sidewalks. The growing pile of luggage at the downtown corner of Peter and Richmond streets resembles the lost baggage section at Pearson airport but is the broken-hearted terminus at the centre of a cruel city.

At the crux of a refugee funding war between the municipal and federal governments are those who have fled persecution for the promise of Canada’s protection. Until June 1, asylum seekers used to arrive at the airport and be sent to Toronto’s Streets to Homes Referral Assessment Centre at 129 Peter St. in search of shelter beds. Now, Toronto’s overcrowded shelter system is closed to these newcomers, so they sleep on the street.

New mayor Olivia Chow pushed the federal government Wednesday for at least $160 million to cope with the surge of refugees in the shelter system. She rightly highlights that refugees are a federal responsibility. In response, the department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada points to hundreds of millions in dollars already allocated to cities across Canada through the Interim Housing Assistance Program, while Ontario says it has given nearly $100 million to organizations that support refugees. But these efforts are simply not enough to deliver on Canada’s benevolent promise to the world’s most vulnerable.

The lack of federal generosity and finger-pointing by the city has orchestrated a moral crisis. It’s reminiscent of the crisis south of the border, where Texas governor Greg Abbott keeps bussing migrants to cities located in northern Democratic states. Without the necessary resources, information, and sometimes the language skills needed to navigate the bureaucratic mazes, those who fled turbulent homelands for Canada have become political pawns.

But Torontonians haven’t always been this callous.

In Ireland Park, at Lake Ontario’s edge, five statues of gaunt and grateful refugees gaze at their new home: Toronto circa 1847. These statues honour a time when Toronto, with a population of only 20,000 people, welcomed 38,500 famine-stricken migrants from Ireland. It paralleled the “Come From Away” event of 9/11 in Gander, N.L., where the population doubled overnight, and the people discovered there was indeed more than enough for all. It was a time when the city lived up to its moniker as “Toronto, The Good.”

Now, as a wealthy city of three million people, the city’s residents are tasked with supporting far fewer newcomers. Can we not recognize the absurdity in claiming scarcity?

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