Thursday, January 13, 2005
POLITICS AS USUAL: MORE BOOZE, WE LOSE?
The Ontario government has annouced that they plan to review the way liquor, wine and beer is sold here in Ontario. For our American CH friends, most (almost all) alcoholic products are sold by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, or LCBO. The LCBO is a wholly government owned and operated public institution.
It also holds a monopoly on booze in Ontario.
The FIBerals are looking for a panel to give them advice on what to do with the monopoly. It raises $3 Billion a year in revenues, making it quite the cash cow, but it also restricts consumer choice in the booze market (funny how a government owned monopoly can do that!).
I'm torn on this issue.
Believe it or not, many other small-and large-C Conservatives are too. On the won hand I abhor monopolies in almost industry (OK, I'm fine with the government cornering the market on healthcare). It restricts choice, raises prices and is basically bad for business and the economy. I've seen first hand how the LCBO can shaft the consumer. My sister, a wine fan, recently bought a box of wine from France. Because it didn't come through the LCBO, it was able to levy an "import tax" that was almost as much as the box of wine itself! That's just garbage.
And don't think the LCBO isn't predatorial on competitors. I've seen them use their position of strength to crush initiatives that were good for the consumer--all in the name of fortifying their monopoly.
But on the other hand, I worry about how booze will be handled without the LCBO. The good part about having booze sold and distributed by a goverment monopoly is that it is strictly regulated. Every try getting beer from them when you're underage? You'd need CSIS to produce your fake ID and mustache.
And frankly, I like that.
The LCBO, mostly under Chairman Andy Brandt, has renewed itself. In the late 80's, the stores were basically a box, with non-descript products like "Alcool" on the shelves. No choice. No flair. No fun. But under Brandt's watch, it has become the single largest purchaser or alcohol in North America. I, or anyone I've been with, have never gone into an LCBO store and not found what I was looking for. The stores offer wine tastings, seminars, cooking classes, you name it. AND they pull a tidy profit for the government.
Yeah, it could be more, but I saw growing up how unscrupulous store owners can be with regard to selling cigarettes. Don't sell to kids under 18? Give me a break. Most of them did. Hey, man, its business. And we all know the negative societal affect booze can have. Government can regulate an open market, you say? Maybe. But goverment can't seem to get its act together on anything right now, so consider me a sceptic. They don't have the resources to police the alcohol market.
Anyway, I welcome the debate and I hope a compromise can be found that provides more consumer choice but ensures the proper standards and regulations remain in place.
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