Guarding the Public Good

The petition for change

Beer and wine sales Joanne McMurchy, owner of a general store in Vanessa, south of Brantford, holds petition signed by customers who want to buy beer and wine at her shop. McMurchy appeared at a Queen’s Park news conference Wednesday pushing the idea, which the government rejects.

Following the recent petition by convenience store owners seeking to sell beer and wine, Dalton McGuinty responded by saying the current system works well to guard the public good. There are several points that run counter to this argument which show that his outdated notions of “protecting” the poor citizens from themselves does not guard the public good and in fact may be causing harm.

Firstly lets examine the nature of the petition that was recently brought before the Legislature.  The petition was started by Joanne McMurchy, who runs the General Store in the hamlet of Vanessa, south of Brantford, where some of the 80 local residents complained they have to drive 20 minutes to a liquor store.  That means that instead of walking to a corner store to pick up some more beer or wine, not only do they have to make unnecessary trip in a car (which isn’t terribly green), there is the chance that some of them will do it after already having had a few drinks.  People in Ontario are going to drink alcohol, the failure of Prohibition more than 80 years ago should have taught us that at the very least.

How many times have you had a dinner party or a few friends over and realized that after having had just a few drinks that you are completely out of wine or beer?  You aren’t drunk and you probably feel fine, but you probably shouldn’t be driving.  But you decide you are fine and need to jump in your car to go get more beer.  Not withstanding the 20 minute drive the citizens of Vanessa must endure, many people do not have a Beer Store or an LCBO within walking distance of their homes, so driving is they only option for many.  So this seemingly harmless drive may end very badly and potentially get someone killed.

Beer and Wine

Evil wine and evil beer. We must be protected from it!

Doesn’t the fact that many people need to drive to buy alcohol increase the chances of some of them driving impaired?  Shouldn’t organizations such as M.A.D.D. be in favour of beer and wine in corner stores?  They are against Drunk Driving, not drunk walking.

Opponents also argue that convenience stores wouldn’t be able to restrict sale of beer and wine to minors or those that are already intoxicated.  That’s nonsense.  Corner stores already sell age-restricted products, including tobacco and lottery tickets.  We don’t have to go to the Tabacco Store or the TCBO to buy cigarettes do we?  If Dalton McGuinty were really concerned about guarding the public good, cigarette sales would have similar restrictions.

But convenience store owners are following the rules right now with these restricted products, they’ll card anyone who looks under 25.  If they were to sell beer and wine they would all likely be required to have each employee have Smart Serve certification.  They would be subject to the same rules and regulations that bars and restaurants must adhere to.  Last time I checked there were thousands of  those such establishments in this province.  Making alcohol available in more places doesn’t promote over consumption, it just makes it more convenient for the people who will consume it anyway.  Having it within walking distance of most people, keeps people out of their cars, cuts down on traffic congestion, the pollution generated by them and the possibility of driving while impaired.  80% of Ontarians drink alcohol in the home, which means the vast majority of us buy it at the LCBO or the Beer Store.

Shopping at the LCBO

The LCBO is a busy place, people are obviously not being deterred from buying alcohol in Ontario.

If Dalton McGuinty is concerned about guarding the public good, why is the government opening more LCBO locations?  It has nothing to do with temperance, clearly.  When was the last time you went into the LCBO and brought a shopping card full of booze to the cash and were turned away for buying too much?  The only thing they ask you is if you have an Air Miles card and if you need help carrying out to your car.  If  you aren’t driving to the LCBO, you aren’t buying as much all at once because it’s too much to carry home from the corner store.

The LCBO is a wasteful organization that makes the government an enormous amount of money, but many have argued that if it were privatized the government would probably make more money in the form of tax revenue and regulation fees.  But I’m not ready to advocate for the LCBO to be dismantled just yet, that is a much more difficult issue to tackle.  Let’s take this one step at a time.  Wine and beer in grocery and corner stores should be first on the list.

The benefits of having beer and wine more readily available far outweigh any of the potential risks to society.  Smaller local producers would benefit and more money would be pumped back into the Ontario economy.  Society can handle beer and wine in grocery and corner stores, anarchy and drunken riots will not ensue and the public good will still be guarded by responsible business owners.

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Is The Ontario Government Undemocratic About Beer?

Is Dalton McGuinty and the Liberal minority government undemocratic? It would seem so. Time and time again Ontarians have come before the Queen’s Park Legislature to present petitions containing over a hundred thousand names, all in favour of making beer and wine available in corner stores and other retail outlets. Each time the petitions have been brought to the Premiere, they are quietly ignored and nothing is done.

Mcguinty Beer

If beer is good enough for a photo op, why not let us decide how we’d like to buy it?

Polls suggest that this is not an isolated group of people who would like to see change. Angus Reid conducted a poll in 2011 asking people over 19 if they supported private retailers selling beer and wine. Overall 60% of those polled said it was time for the laws to be reformed. That number jumped to 67% among regular customers of the LCBO and Beer Store. In areas near the Quebec border (such as Ottawa) the number is over 70% in favour of change. This latest petition of over a hundred thousand signatures is just another indicator that the majority of Ontarian is ready to finally leap forward from the over regulation of the post-prohibition era.

Currently The Beer Store holds a virtual monopoly on the sales of beer in the province. Nearly 80% of people in Ontario buy their beer from The Beer Store. The vast majority of people polled (nearly 95%) believe that the government runs The Beer Store. It’s actually a private company owned by Molson-Coors (48%), AB Inbev of Belgium (48%) and Sapparo of Japan (2%). With this strangle hold on the beer market place they can continue to directly market and sell their most popular brands to the public. Small local craft brewers are the losers in this situation. They have to pay substantial listing fees in each store for each product they carry and the only visibility they get for their products is a label on a wall of hundreds of other labels.

Pick a beer any beer, just be sure you know which one before you get in that line!

Let’s face it; the retail experience at a Beer Store is like lining up for bread in a Soviet state. You cannot pick up the product, examine the packaging, compare it to others and decide what you want to buy. You need to know what you want before you walk in, or at least before you get to the front of the line or risk the ire of your fellow comrades waiting for your weekly beer ration.

Opening up the retail regulations to small business will help craft brewers and local producers of wine. The LCBO decides what we, as Ontario consumers should drink by only stocking what they feel will sell. That means some of the great wines produced in smaller batches in Niagara and Prince Edward County are only available at the wineries because the LCBO deems them too small to bother with in their stores.

If retail regulations were changed we could have Artisan Craft Beer Stores and Wine outlets run by co-operatives of wine growers in Ontario. People in urban centres across the province would be able to support local economies and drink some very well made products. With all the calls to eat locally shouldn’t we be drinking locally as well?

A craft beer store in Buffalo, New York

This is an example of how it could be in Ontario – Craft Beer Stores offering hundreds of different styles and types of beer from all over the province.

It’s time we told Dalton McGuinty and his Liberal minority government it’s time to stop being undemocratic and start listening to the majority of Ontarians and make changes the law. Don’t be shy let him and the other leaders know what you think. Tell them if they can’t do it there is likely someone else worth electing who will.