Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Doug Ford's "billion dollar booze boondoggle"

Doug Ford is on his populist hobby-horse again. It must be getting close to election time (actually, it's about two years away).

His latest wheeze is to spend $225 million of taxpayers' money on paying off The Beer Store so that convenience stores can start selling beer and wine a few months earlier than would otherwise be the case. (It was originally scheduled to happen anyway at the start of 2026, but apparently Ford can't wait that long.)

It doesn't end there, though. He is offering private sector retailers an estimated $74 million a year for a 10% discount on LCBO wine prices, a $375 million one-off payment to the Beer Store to rebate the LCBO's cost-of-service fees, and an estimated $300 million in foregone government revenue from not charging retailers a licensing fee. In fact, the opposition Liberals reckon that the whole thing may cost Ontario as much as a billion dollars.

And for what? The convenience of buying your booze at the local convenience store rather than at the Beer Store, LCBO or large supermarket? I guess many a wino may be happy (their concerned relatives less so), but I'm not convinced that they are a very valuable voting bloc.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto has decried the early rollout, and both the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Canadian Cancer Society point out that the number of emergency department visits related to alcohol spiked the last time access to alcohol was expanded in the province (yes, Doug Ford again). 

It's not even clear that many convenience stores really want the responsibility and potential security hassles of selling alcohol. Certainly, those that do start to sell alcohol will only be stocking a small selection of fast-selling brands, and it is likely that they will mark up prices significantly compared to the Beer Store and LCBO, as much as 40-50% according to some commentators. The agreement is that at least 20% of beers should be from Ontario "craft producers", and at least 40% of wines should be local, but these will almost certainly be the biggest brands that fit the bill. Necessary delivery and recycling requirements may be enough to put many small stores off completely.

Why is alcohol such a priority for the Ford government (remember the "buck-a-beer" fiasco)? I can't help but think that a billion dollars - or even, say, half a billion - could be better spent on infrastructure, housing, healthcare, transit, anything really.

No comments: