As the holiday season comes to a close, many of us will be breathing sighs of relief to have survived one of man’s greatest plights: dinner with the extended family. Is it wrong of me to say that everyone has members of their clan they would rather forget they are related to? There’s the vegan cousin whose dreadlocks smell like tofu and goat excrement, not to mention the explicitly racist grandfather – but maybe the worst of them all is the drunk uncle.
Ah, the drunk uncle, inebriated when he enters and inebriated when he leaves. Always quick to tell that one embarrassing childhood story you were hoping no one would bring up in front of your new girlfriend. But hey, family is family, and what better way to show your appreciation for your drunk uncle than getting him a gift from the only women he’s said has ever loved him: Sheila–the cashier at the LCBO. And you’re probably going to want to get a little something-something for yourself to help you forget that dinner ever happened.
Whether it be for your own personal enjoyment, or for the high school kids shoulder-tapping outside because you just found your first grey chest hair and want to feel hip and in-touch with the younger generation, you’ll find yourself shopping in one of the two only beer retailers in Ontario: the LCBO and the Beer Store. They’re owned and operated by the provincial government and a group of major brewers respectively. The reason why the Beer Store stands separate from the LCBO is a mystery lost in the winds of time. Really though, I couldn’t find a coherent explanation online, besides the fact that it has something to do with the government wanting to appease some post-prohibition temperance advocates. Needless to say, their relationship is as strange as that married couple you know who, if you look back far enough, are fifth cousins or something.
That being said, a document released by the Toronto Star earlier last month revealed an even more disturbing fact. As consumers, we’d like to think we’re not being screwed by oligopolies–companies colluding and setting prices to ensure their maximum profit and control over the market. The government has laws protecting consumer interest that ensure the top-dogs stay cut-throat competitive. Unless, 0f course, they are the very ones colluding, as was outlined in this document. For over a decade, the Beer Store has been in a sweet deal with the LCBO. Acquiesced from the pressure of the brewers that own the Beer Store, the Conservative government of the time ordered the then-CEO and chair of the LCBO, Andy Brandt, to limit sales of beer in packaging larger than six containers, to the Beer Store. As the demand for 12-packs and two-fours are higher, this leaves a huge margin of profit in the Beer Store’s control as well as the ability to set the prices.
The document also includes a clause that prohibits the LCBO from supplying to restaurants and bars leaving them at the mercy of the Beer Store’s tight hold on the market. The revelations made in The Star article has spawned a Burlington pub owner to file a class-action lawsuit against the LCBO and the Beer Store seeking $1.4 billion in restitution on behalf of Ontarian beer drinkers. This is to be the first time that legal action thought up in a pub would hold true the next morning.
Restaurants Canada, a national restaurant industry group, called on the Ontario government to cancel the deal. The restaurant group maintains that the deal restricts competition and drives up the cost of beer in restaurants and bars.
All this has been an ultimate test of my trust and I’m not sure what I can believe anymore. Did the chef that just made my food wash his hands? Are Frosted Flakes really grrrrrrrrrrreat? Man, I don’t know, but this existential crisis is really getting me down. I think I’ll drown my sorrows in a couple cold ones.