The first day of spring has come and gone, bringing us one step closer to backyard BBQ season. This year, it seems as though a trip to the Beer Store may not be necessary.
According to the abounding rumours about the spring budget, the Ontario Liberal Party plans to de-monopolize the sale of beer in the province, which has been held by The Beer Store since 1927. The Beer Store was originally a conglomerate of Ontario based brewers, but it is now owned by three major multinational brewers, none of which are based in Canada.
As the provincial government revealed this week, it plans to sell licenses to several hundred grocery stores across the province. While Wynne refuses to allow the sale of beer at corner stores (as Quebec does), the sale of beer in Ontario’s grocery stores would largely mirror Quebec’s system: the beer will only be displayed in a designated aisle. Wine would also be (again, similar to a Quebec super market, so only the cheap stuff), but hard liquor and spirits would continue to be confined to the LCBO.
This liberalization of the alcohol market has been a long time coming in Ontario. It was something discussed by Premiers David Peterson, Mike Harris, and Dalton McGuinty during their tenures in office. While many welcome the pending reforms, intense opposition has arisen in both the right and the left. The NDP have refused to support the measure, insisting that “The LCBO and our beer stores…do an excellent job,” despite the numerous complaints from both consumers and micro-producers.
The real reason the NDP is—and always has been—opposed to the idea (having voted against the Peterson government’s attempts to make such changes thirty years ago) is due to the party’s close ties to unions. One such collective is the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents LCBO workers, and which insists that such a change would cause a spike in violence against women. Using language better suited to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of the last century, the OPSEU has said, “We know alcohol contributes to violence, and this makes us question Premier Kathleen Wynne’s commitment to making women in this province safer.” If Ontario is to ensure there is no more violence against women, are they to bring back prohibition?
The OPSEU would prefer for prohibition to return because supermarket employees of Ontario might not be able to safely handle and sell alcohol, or even be of age to do so. The same can be said for restaurants; that’s why, to sell alcohol in a restaurant, you need to be 18 years old and must have passed a Smart Serve course. Perhaps the OPSEU feels that this would be beyond the capacity for checkout clerks and bag boys.
Part of the NDP’s opposition might also come from the nearly $500,000 they receive in donations from The Beer Store and the union which represents its workers. Granted, The Beer Store gives to the Liberals and PCs as well, but their union doesn’t.
The provincial Tories have yet to make an official statement on the issue, but some leadership candidates have tentatively welcomed the idea. A few on the right, ironically, don’t feel the reforms are liberal enough, and feel that, by not extending the de-monopolization to corner stores, the Liberals are perpetrating an “anti-small business agenda.” This is what the right usually says when the center comes up with an idea they wish they had had.