Hard times? We need a beer subsidy.

Premier McGuinty puts taxpayer money where his mouth is

With tough times ahead, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said last week his fall economic statement will reflect “the need for us to be prudent . . . given what is happening to our revenues.” Some might disagree with his definition of prudent. Days earlier, his government announced an $8-million subsidy program—for beer.

The province’s Ontario Craft Brewers Opportunity Fund will, for the next four years, give small brewers six cents per litre for all the beer they sell. The money is to be spent on marketing, allowing them to compete with the ad budgets of large, internationally owned beer companies.

John Hay, president of the Ontario Craft Brewers Association, calls the new subsidy “a wonderful program. Our industry is really gathering strength and creating jobs. And we make excellent beer.” No one has disputed the tastiness of their product, but the job creation figures seem rather small beer. Hay points to nearly 500 jobs at dozens of small breweries as evidence of the industry’s economic impact. And he predicts a doubling to 1,000 jobs by 2014. Yet in 2005, when the organization received a different $5-million subsidy from the province, Hay claimed his industry had “current employment of 600 jobs,” and he predicted employment of 1,600 by 2014. So the subsidies keep coming, but the job numbers seem to be shrinking.

If small brewers need help convincing Canadians to drink beer, they seem to have no problem reaching provincial politicians. Over the summer, Hay’s group hosted a well-attended beer-tasting contest for MPPs. And when Speaker of the House Steve Peters chose Neustadt Scottish Pale Ale as his official beer of the legislature, the brewery was so pleased it commissioned an oil painting of him, complete with beer-can gavel and thumbs up sign. Cheers!

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