Thursday, December 6, 2012

Privatizing the LCBO

Summerhill LCBO
Is this it? Are we finally going to get serious about doing this?

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak is the latest to publicly call for privatization as part of his platform. This debate has been brought up before, and has quickly died everytime. On one side, the LCBO brings in billions of revenue to the government - they operate hundreds of outlets servicing the most obscure towns in the province, and they are the world's largest buyers of wine. On the other hand, prices that Ontarians are charged clearly are not competitive, and this whole paternalistic notion that we, as adults, need to have our alcohol consumption regulated is shocking in a free society.

So what are the reasons being given to privatize some or all of the LCBO? Well, choice for one. Ontarians should not be restricted to LCBO outlets to buy alcohol, and corner shops and private stores should be able to carry it. Privatizing alcohol retail will create jobs and small businesses. And most importantly, prices for booze will be more competitive. I should not have to pay over $30 for a bottle of Lapierre Morgon when they pay $18 in New York.

The reasons to keep the monopoly in place? Lost government revenue, of course. Decrease in the variety of products available. And the social cost involved, because of course, if the government stops controlling alcohol, we're all going to turn into raving alcoholics smashing shit up and fornicating in public. First of all, we won't lose variety - we'll gain it. We'll have importers and shops who specialize in specific wines or beers or spirits, instead of variety stores. We want boutiques, not fucking Wal-Marts. LCBO is the world's largest buyer of wine by volume, but look at what they're buying. Sub-$10 wine doesn't count as giving people 'choice' - no, it's finding the cheapest wine available because there will always be a market for it. And there is no evidence that the absence of government controlled retail of alcohol leads to increased alcohol-related offences. The LCBO's supposed mandate to promote local wines (Canada's two main wine regions being Ontario and British Columbia) is a joke. It's a numbers game. The LCBO (and Vintages) asks for volume, and many of these producers simply don't produce enough wine; the wine that they do produce, they can't afford to sell through the LCBO.

I definitely think this issue needs to be seriously debated, and a conclusive solution reached. The interests of local wine producers aren't being answered; and it's becoming harder and harder to convince everyone that the public interest is being met. Take a look here: My Wine Shop, and show your support for consumer choice.


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