Wednesday, July 20, 2005
POLITICS AS USUAL: SOBERING LCBO RECOMMENDATIONS GET TOSSED
On Monday, the Beverage Alcohol System Review Panel made its recommendations to the McGuinty government on the future of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, or LCBO. The Panel, whose members include a number of "industry experts", was formed in January of this year. According to their release, they:
"conducted a broad review of the existing system and
developed recommendations for the government's consideration on ways to get
better value for both consumers and the government while maintaining the strong
commitment to social responsibility that Ontarians expect."
Waaaaaaaay back in January 2005, here's what the government had to say on the matter of the LCBO and its operations:
"The McGuinty government is appointing an expert panel to review the distribution and sale of beverage alcohol in the province, Finance Minister Greg Sorbara announced today.
"The LCBO is not for sale. However, our government made a commitment to undertake a thorough review of major assets," said Sorbara. "This is an opportunity for impartial experts to undertake a comprehensive review of the industry and recommend ways it can work better."
So, what does the panel take 6 months to do?
Recommend that the Ontario government sell the LCBO.
From the Panel recommendations:
"To provide the benefits of a more open, flexible and competitive market to the people of Ontario, including increased revenue from the system, we recommend that the government of Ontario do the following:
- Fully restructure the beverage alcohol system by focusing the government's role on regulating access to beverage alcohol;
- withdrawing government from retail and wholesale operations and supporting the creation of a competitive marketplace;
- auctioning licences to qualified bidders to permit them to retail a full range of beverage alcohol products within defined geographic zones for a fixed term;
- auctioning licences to qualified bidders to permit them to wholesale a full range of beverage alcohol products province-wide for a fixed term;
- limiting the number of licences and market share of any one bidder.
So, what, pretell, is the government's (predictable) response?
"Finance Minister Greg Sorbara today confirmed the government's commitment not to sell the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), after receiving the Beverage Alcohol System Review panel report on the distribution and sale of beverage alcohol in the province."
"Let me be clear - we are not selling the LCBO," said Sorbara. "We will not turn the LCBO into an income trust. And, we will not permit selling of beer and wine in corner stores."
Alrighty then. Thanks for your time, boys--we'll take it from here.
So, the government spends however many dollars over 6 months only to then reject the primary recommendations out of hand?
I gotta tell ya, something stinks. Or, someone's asleep (passed out) at the switch. What happens now? The report suggests their recommendations could yield an additional $200 million for Ontario coffers. And they're not willing to look at it?
What does that say about McGuinty's commitment to reducing the deficit in this province?
What is the plan to end the monopoly on alcohol the government and the larger beer and wine companies have in Ontario?
Why strike the Panel in the first place? If you're not willing to listen to "experts", who will you listen to?
All good questions (if I do say so myself) that are left unanswered by the government's rejection of their own Panel.
Ian Urquart in today's Toronto Star thinks that this is just the beginning of the story, and he might be right. It seems the McGuinty government has had an operational review going as well. He also quotes John Tory as willing to look at the Panel's recommnedations fare more seriously than the FIBerals.Looks like it will be more hairpulling at the LCBO.
I think they might want to pour themselves a stiff one. If they can afford it.
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