Start stocking your liquor cabinet

LCBOThe Guelph Mercury, 5/27/2009

Oh, the humanity! Just when Ontario needs a drink the most, we might be facing a strike at our unionized liquor stores.

Say it ain’t so.

Seems the LCBO, the Liquor Control Bullies of Ontario, has grown fond of hiring cheaper contract and part-time workers over more expensive full-time workers. The Crown corporation says it saves money during the slow times and gives flexibility during peak times.

But the Ontario Public Service Employees Union says enough is enough. It says as full-time positions vanish, people can’t make a living anymore. This week, the LCBO’s unionized workers voted to strike if the issue can’t be resolved in contract talks.

This isn’t going to be pretty, folks. Shut down our hospitals, close our schools and halt our garbage collection. But, for God’s sake, let us have our booze. Imagine an Ontario heading into a long, hot summer with the prospect of pickets outside our LCBOs and the stores’ front doors locked tight.

We’d have only one place to turn to get our liquor. That’s right: teenagers. Those rascally kids have been figuring out clever ways to get their sweaty hands on booze since minimum drinking ages were introduced. They’re more resourceful than a Toilet Bowl Merlot-making prison inmate.

It’s true: If you have a teenager living in your house, every opened bottle of booze you own has had water added to it. It’s a scientific fact. Didn’t you ever wonder why your scotch or vodka suddenly started tasting weaker right around the same time your little monster started high school?

That shouldn’t be a surprise. Teenagers have had to get innovative. They’ve long been persecuted by the LCBO, which, if you can believe it, promotes the myth you can have fun at your prom without liquor. As if.

Not satisfied with harassing teens, the LCBO often picks on another defenceless victim: bootleggers. The Crown corporation thinks smuggled liquor and illegally made hooch is worth more than $661 million per year — or about fives times that in LCBO pricing. Imagine all the part-time, casual workers it could hire with that.

Perhaps that bustling black market can be partially explained by a funny old law that allows Ontarians to brew their own beer and make their own wine, but forbids them from making their own hard liquor. So what if a bad batch of grandpappy’s special syrup can make you go blind — staring at the sun will do the same thing, right?

But back to the main point. As the LCBO and its workers sit down for negotiations next week, maybe we should be asking: why should consumers be held hostage by a government-run monopoly on booze? Why can unions threaten to lock away our liquor, when our cousins in Quebec, Alberta and across the United States can walk into any corner store for their drink of choice?

Don’t those places also enjoy more stores, greater convenience, more discount sales, lower prices for popular and bulk items, plus longer store hours?

We’ve flirted with allowing beer and wine to be sold in corner stores before. In 1985, David Peterson and his Liberals campaigned for just such a thing. They won a minority, but we didn’t get our corner-store booze. Maybe they’re still working on it.

Of course, Ontario has long had a funny relationship with booze. This is, after all, the same province that once required customers obtain a permit to buy liquor, and, in the 1970s, changed the drinking age three times.

But more to the heart of the matter: The LCBO monopoly earned $1.4 billion for our provincial government last year, on top of the 12 per cent liquor tax they haul in on every bottle sold. Think they’re willing to give that revenue up? As if.

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