Tuesday, July 09, 2024

LCBO strike will struggle to find too much support

As workers from the LCBO - Liquor Control Board of Ontario, otherwise known as "the liquor store" in Ontario's restrictive booze business - go out on strike, serious questions are being asked about the organization's continued relevance.

I am normally reasonably supportive of striking workers, who typically don't take such drastic action lightly. But a lot of normally supportive individuals are not quite so gung-ho about this one. It may be partly their rather disingenuous sloganeering which attempts to equate a government-controlled wine and spirits business with the provincial healthcare system. Yes, the LCBO contributes about $2.5 billion in profits into the province's coffers, but under other circumstances that would be achieved by taxation.

I actually think the LCBO does a pretty good job of providing a good selection of local and international wine and beer (I'm not a spirit-drinker and so can't really comment there). A bit pricey, maybe, but a monopoly will do that.

The editorial in today's Globe and Mail laid out the main problem, though. The ship has already sailed. Booze is now available through many different outlets, and the LCBO's monopoly position is already severely weakened (partly due to Doug Ford's alcohol privatization crusade over the last few years, which has had its own problems as I have noted previously).

The editorial breaks down the numbers. There are 650 LCBO stores in the province, but there are also: 628 wineries and winery retail stores selling wine; 82 distillery retail stores selling spirits; 373 breweries selling beer; 437 Beer Stores selling beer; 448 grocery stores selling beer and wine; and 389 LCBO "convenience outlets" inside small stores in rural areas selling beer, wine and spirits. 

Add to that the upcoming further relaxation of retail rules which will allow convenience stores to sell wine beer and premixed cocktails, and there you have it. People are not going to be too worried about the LCBO stores closing for a few weeks. 

The writing is on the wall, the cat is out of the bag, the horse has bolted, use whatever idiom you prefer. But the fact is the status quo has shifted, and we are never going back to the grim old days I remember from when I first moved here, when alcohol was grudgingly dispense in brown paper bags from Soviet-style rationing offices.

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