Open borders with Quebec have New Brunswick beer drinkers hitting the road again

·3 min read
Beer in Quebec can be 50 cents cheaper per can than in New Brunswick. It's enough for hundreds of locals to justify regular trips across the border. (Shane Fowler/CBC - image credit)
Beer in Quebec can be 50 cents cheaper per can than in New Brunswick. It's enough for hundreds of locals to justify regular trips across the border. (Shane Fowler/CBC - image credit)

With the New Brunswick and Quebec border all but sealed to the general public during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, new figures show sales of alcohol at outlets throughout northern New Brunswick shattered records.

But the gains appear to be temporary.

Denis Albert owns Le Marché du Village, which serves as N.B. Liquor's agency outlet in the northwestern community of Haut-Madawaska.

Albert's store sold $1.36 million worth of beer, wine and other alcohol products between April 2020 and March 2021 according to N.B. Liquor records, a stunning 172 per cent increase over the previous year.

Albert believes that is a clue to the amount of cross border liquor purchases in his area in normal times.

"A lot of people buy their beer in Quebec," he said.

"The province of New Brunswick was closed. People came here because they didn't have any choice."

Google Maps
Google Maps

New Brunswick has long fretted over the number of people who buy cheap liquor in other provinces, mostly Quebec, and bring it into the province.

It successfully fought a five year long legal battle with Tracadie resident Gerard Comeau to assert its right to restrict amounts New Brunswick residents can bring with them from other provinces.

Comeau, a retired N.B. Power lineman, was stopped at the New Brunswick-Quebec border by RCMP in 2012 and fined $292.50 for having 14 cases of beer, two bottles of whisky and one bottle of liqueur in his vehicle.

But it has never been clear how many Gerard Comeaus are out there, until the pandemic closed the border.

Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada
Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada

Liquor sales all over New Brunswick were affected by COVID-19 restrictions in different ways, but the most dramatic changes happened in the north where sales across the region instantly jumped an average of 30 per cent

N.B. Liquor's ten northern corporate stores stretching from Grand Falls and Edmundston in the northwest all the way around to Bathurst and Neguac in the northeast posted combined sales increases of $12.7 million during the year compared to a combined sales decline of $1.1 million in NB Liquor stores serving the cities of Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton and Dieppe.

In addition, a cluster of 13 agency stores sprinkled throughout the north, from St. Quentin to Balmoral to Renous recorded additional sales increases of $7.4 million.

N.B. Liquor/Facebook
N.B. Liquor/Facebook

Included in that number is the agency outlet in tiny Saint Arthur, south of Campbellton, which had sales more than triple to $809,000

It's unclear how much of those increases are due to the closure of normal traffic between New Brunswick and Quebec during the first 15 months of the pandemic, but it's likely a significant amount.

The largest sales increases among N.B. Liquor corporate stores all came in those closest to Quebec border crossings including Campbellton (+75.0 per cent), Dalhousie (+56.7 per cent) and Edmundston (+36.7 per cent)

N.B. Liquor did not respond to a request for information about the issue, but Denis Albert said there is no question in his mind what happenned, because customers have disappeared and sales have plummeted at his store since the Quebec border opened in June.

"It's decreased maybe 75 per cent," he said

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