ACGO fee hike

Booze could get way more expensive at events in Toronto

Local festival and event producers are scrambling to rework their budgets right now in the wake of a surprise, 600 per cent fee hike from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO.)

Special Occasion Permits, mandatory for any gathering that serves alcohol outside a licensed establishment, is part and parcel of running a company for many small business owners in Ontario.

The process of obtaining these permits is widely seen as tedious, annoying and super drawn-out – but it's never been particularly expensive.

Right now, it costs $75 for a three-day permit to run an event in Toronto. After April 1, the price will go up to $450 for the same amount of time.

"I didn't know it was coming, nobody knew about it" says Aaron Brown, who produces the Appleseed Cider Festival among other events in Toronto and around the province.

"It seems like they just sort of did it and decided to tell everyone after, rather than let us know or explain why," he said by phone. "We had no chance to voice our concerns... they really haven't been able to justify it."

The AGCO wrote on its website last month that the fee increase is necessary to recover part of "regulatory costs associated with the administration of SOPs."

"These will be the first changes to SOP fees in over 15 years," the regulatory body noted both on its website and in response to queries on Twitter.

It's also of note that the process for submitting applications will change on April 1 to an exclusively online system.

Brown calls the AGCO's stated rationale "completely unfair."

"They say it hasn't been raised in 15 years, so what?" he said. "The cost should be tied to how much it cost to regulate us. It's hard to know where the money is going or how it's going to be used."

Others in the industry are concerned that smaller beer festivals and traveling pop-up events will have to scale back their seasons or shut down altogether.

Or they could jack their own prices to reflect the regulatory changes.

"This increase won't be a deal breaker for events (small or big)," tweeted the beer import agency Keep6, which represents small producers in Ontario. "All this means is the cost of admission / your drinks will go up."

Brown agrees that booze prices and admissions will likely be passed on to the consumer.

"Big festivals aren't going to notice or care," he said, referring to events like VELD. "But just because they can afford it doesn't mean we can."

Independent festivals are already struggling under increased costs across the board, by some reports, on account of Ontario's minimum wage hike.

What irks Brown, in particular, the most is not the fee hike, but who's hiking it and how the rollout was handled.

"What other line item is increasing 600 per cent?" he said. "I don’t see anything in my budget going up that much. And it's from the government."

Lead photo by

 Andrew Williamson

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