Ontario PC leader would allow booze to be sold in corner stores and grocery aisles, consider selling LCBO - Macleans.ca

Ontario PC leader would allow booze to be sold in corner stores and grocery aisles, consider selling LCBO


TORONTO – Ontario should allow beer, wine and spirits to be sold in corner stores and grocery aisles, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said Tuesday.

He said he wouldn’t cut taxes on alcohol, but he would consider selling part or all of the LCBO, which said it brought in $1.6 billion to the province last year.

“So I think we need to be practical and thoughtful, whether that’s a partial sale of LCBO stores, a full sale, allowing the employees in to bid and run them as well, or franchises,” he said.

“I think all these options are valid. I’d like to hear what Ontarians have to say about that, but I’m not going to build new stores, and I think it is time to have LCBO stores go into private hands.”

The government should concentrate on core services like health care and education instead, Hudak said.

But he rejected the notion that selling any part of the LCBO would deprive the province — which is facing a $14.4-billion deficit this year — of much-needed cash.

“I bet you that actually increases revenue at the end of the day,” he said.

Ontario should follow other Canadian and U.S. jurisdictions such as Alberta, British Columbia, West Virginia and Iowa, which allow the private sector to sell alcohol, he said.

“You could drive out of this province in any direction you wanted to go to, and you’d find more choice and more competition in privately run stores,” he said.

“It’s time we did that in Ontario too.”

Hudak’s suggestions for the LCBO are among the trial balloons the Tory leader is floating, which also include having the province get out of the gambling business. But they’re not official party policy.

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Ontario PC leader would allow booze to be sold in corner stores and grocery aisles, consider selling LCBO

  1. Tim Hudak wants to privatize the LCBO. He cites Alberta as an example of this process. We used to live in Alberta. My wife is from Alberta so we still visit family there often. Let me tell you our experience with privatization.

    The first trip back to Alberta after privatization was also our first time back to Canada after working for about a year overseas. We had a list of things we had missed, and in particular some fine Canadian beverages. Leaving the airport to meet with the first of many friends and relatives we stopped at a liquor store. We wanted a specific brand of beer, wine and whiskey, all Canadian. The first liquor store could only supply one of three, the second liquor store could supply one of the two remaining, and the third liquor store had our last request. You call this convenience? Having to go to three liquor stores just to get the beer, wine and whiskey you want?

    Not only did we have to go to three separate stores, but the prices seemed higher. We asked our friends and family and they all confirmed our suspicions, prices were higher, and selection was less. This is not an improvement.

    Further, the stores had bars on the windows. Bars on the windows are something we have noticed throughout the province since privatization. That is a big change. ALCB stores almost never had bars on the windows. Why do all private liquor stores seem to need bars on the windows? It is not an inviting atmosphere in which to shop. Do thieves only rob private liquor stores, and not government liquor stores? Come to think of it, I have seldom heard of a government liquor store being robbed.

    On another occasion, when driving from Ontario to the family farm in Alberta, we stopped at a liquor store in a smaller town near the farm. Again the store had bars on the windows, was not particularly clean, and the staff had little knowledge of the products. We wanted a single malt scotch. We were shown the scotch shelf. No single malt, and they had no idea what we meant when we mentioned this.

    Do we truly wish to go down a path of turning our liquor stores into poorly stocked, ineptly staffed, seedy looking, fortified establishments?

    The ALCB stores were large like grocery stores, were brightly lit, were clean, well stocked and had well informed staff. When traveling they were easy to find as they all had similar architecture and a standard sign out front. Yes, smaller towns had smaller stores, but they were still a better store than now exists.

    Canadians love to say they do it this way in other places, but many other places also have the government model. I remember driving from Montreal to Cape Cod with a friend, and we stopped at a New Hampshire government liquor store on the Interstate. It was huge, and busy. I was surprised to learn that people drove from three states over just to come to these government liquor stores because they had such a large selection and good prices. People often made it a weekend trip. So even in the States there are jurisdictions that use the government model, though in this case it is for only liquor and wine.

    If you drink one of the two or three best selling beers, you will no doubt find some level of improved convenience, but small private liquor stores, or corner stores that are doing this as a sideline, will have a very limited selection, and you will find yourself going without your favourite brand, or having to make a trip to several stores, or placing special orders.

    After 20 years of privatization Alberta’s situation has improved a bit as many small operators have fallen by the wayside as larger better stocked stores buy them out or force them out of business. Still it took 20 years. Do you really want 20 years of limited choices and having to shop at numerous stores just to find your favourite whiskey and your partner’s favourite wine?

    A recent report commissioned by the Saskatchewan government, which still has government run stores, just confirmed that Alberta has higher prices than its neighbours. The Saskatchewan study also revealed that the Alberta government was missing out on revenue as a result of privatization, and that policing of liquor sales was not as effective.

    As I write this I think the only winners might be Molson, Labatt and their peers. The smaller merchants would only be able to afford, or would only bother to, stock their high turnover products, but who will stock the products from the craft brewers, the other smaller breweries and the imports? This move would likely benefit the big producers of Canadian beer, wine and liquor more than anyone else. It is certainly not going to benefit the consumer.

    So with a combination of less selection, higher prices, less government revenue, and less attractive stores, it makes the choice clear in my mind. Keep the LCBO and the revenue, along with the extensive selection and large stores. Sure, lets extend the hours a bit if needed, even build a few more stores, if needed, but keep the current proven system, it works.

    • Some things you need to understand about Alberta’s system — things that even most Albertans don’t know.

      First of all, all of our liquor is supplied through one private company.

      That’s right. One. They were granted the exclusive license to be the sole importer/warehouser/distributor of liquor in the province. All liquor stores have to go through them for anything other than domestic beer. http://www.connect-logistics.com/home

      So that expense you were seeing? That’s the price of a government granted private monopoly.

      As to the lack of selection, every liquor sold in Alberta still needs to be approved by the government. New product registration can take up to two weeks, and takes enough paperwork that some smaller suppliers don’t even bother for various specialty runs. I know some of the best wines I’ve had come from a winery in BC that I simply can not get here in Alberta. I have to order direct from them.

      As to the stores.. ahh.. now that’s privatization. You’ll find a huge range of stores in Alberta now. In selection, service, and esthetics. So yeah, you go to a small liquor store outside Granum, Alberta, and you’re not exactly going to find a sommelier serving the guys who drive up in their 4x4s. They’re not interested.

      And as to not hearing of public liquor stores being robbed, I submit to you that you simply weren’t listening.

      Now, if you go to a major store in a major centre, however, such as Zyn in Calgary, you’ll probably find the selection, staff-knowledge, and ambience will probably be more to your liking — certainly better than you could ever find in an ALCB.

      Also on the plus side, you can actually *have* a liquor store in Granum now, and not have to drive over 30 miles to Lethbridge. That’s one thing privatization has definitely done. If you don’t like what’s in one liquor store, there’s probably another not too far away.

      Put all of this together? Privatization of the liquor stores really isn’t something that should be feared — the government can still get its money through taxes on booze and if it’s set up properly (ie, not how we’ve done it here in Alberta, where, if we’re being honest, we give Quebec a run for its money in the corruption department.. we just legalize it first) it certainly doesn’t have to be any more expensive or with less selection.

      • “That’s right. One. They were granted the exclusive license to be the sole importer/warehouser/distributor of liquor in the province. All liquor stores have to go through them for anything other than domestic beer”

        Yep. That’s how neo-cons like Hudak do it. They create private monopolies that gouge consumers. Also when they privatize a government business, they privatize the profits and socialize the losses. (Actually, McGuinty has been involved in a number of failed neo-con privatization schemes as well…)

        It’s time to ditch this free-market crony capitalism. This self-serving ideology has taken a wrecking ball to living standards and caused a global economic meltdown. How much more disaster do we have to put up with before coming to our senses?

  2. I lived in the england for 3 years and another aspect not mentioned is how the local 24 hour grocery store could sell you a bottle of vodka at 2am leading to people getting really drunk at all hours of the day and store that didn’t really mind selling alcohol to underage people. It was awful people so drunk they were om the verge of poisioning themselves…… Like Amy Winehouse

  3. I suspect the price will fall a little for the consumer, it will become a bit easier to get for the underage, and after the initial capital gain from the sale is gone the province will have a little less revenue.

    • I doubt the price will fall. The LCBO is one of the largest purchases or alcohol on the planet. When you buy in bulk you get a discounted price.

      If the LCBO monopoly is privatized as a monopoly, consumers will really end up paying more. Only governments can run monopolies responsibly because they aren’t driven by the profit motive.

      And one has to wonder how they’d break the LCBO up? You have outlets and distribution centers across the province. Obviously, the government would want to maximize the sale of assets. That means keeping things pretty much intact, which means putting monopolies in the hands of private owners.

  4. Ontario needs a change of Govt party in the worst way but the alternatives may not be what we need. Hudak PC reminds me of Mike Harris and the 407 selloff. Horvath NDP is too socialist for my taste. maybe what we need is another centrist party.