Recession? (Hic!) What recession?

When economic times get tough, Canadians start drinking

Recession? (Hic!) What recession?

Despite the economic collapse—or maybe because of it—Canadian liquor sales are up. Way up. Sales of everything from cars to homes to furniture have fallen off a cliff. But booze is flying off the shelves as Canadians deaden the pain caused by falling markets, dwindling savings and lost jobs.

Unadjusted sales from large retailers of alcoholic beverages are up 17 per cent this October over October 2007, Statistics Canada reports, a striking contrast to plummeting holiday spending on gifts, travel and entertainment, which one Scotiabank survey estimated may have dipped by 13 per cent. Manitoba seems particularly in need of liquid courage, as it set a new all-time record for single-day sales on Dec. 23, traditionally a red-letter liquor-buying day. It sold $3.6 million worth of booze in less than 24 hours.

An unfortunate side effect of all this apocalyptic fun has been havoc on the roads, as police across Canada report a worrying rise in impaired driving. In Toronto over the holidays, the number of drivers charged spiked an incredible 33 per cent over the same period in 2007. In Prince George, B.C., charges rose so rapidly that senior Mounties called special meetings to address the problem, and Edmonton reported an overall rise in drinking and driving year over year.

The rise is alcohol consumption isn’t new, says Lawrence Derry, an Alberta addictions specialist. Booze has always been a loyal crutch in tough economic times. “Whenever you get any uncertainty in the economy, what do people do? You go to the comforts that you know you can rely on,” he says. “The stock market took a real pounding in October, a lot of people lost small paper fortunes. Put all that together, well—of course people are going to look for that extra edge.”

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