Ontario enters the 20th century

Whatever the reason, it is about time Ontario loosened up the ridiculously Victorian rules around alcohol that have prevailed in this province for far too long. Pictured: Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Photo Credit: Doug Ford/X. 

With last week’s announcement of a further loosening of the rules around selling alcoholic beverages in Ontario, the province has finally entered the 20th century. That’s right – the 1900s. Virtually every country around the world has had alcohol products widely available in a variety of private sector stores for many decades, if not centuries. It is mystifying why Ontario seems to view this kind of decision as highly controversial when it has been a reality on most of the planet for ages without any downside. Even most other Canadian provinces are miles ahead of Ontario in terms of permitting the sale of alcohol in a wider variety of retail locations. Why is Ontario so prudish? 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s announcement last week took many by surprise. The changes proposed are that after September 5 of this year, convenience stores will be able to sell beer, cider, wine and coolers. After October 31 (trick or treat!) grocery and big-box stores can sell the same beverages. For anyone with even a cursory knowledge of how alcoholic beverages are sold in other countries, this is hardly a shocker. 

What is surprising is why the Ford government – or even any other Conservative government – did not do this sooner. It had been promised by a number of former Conservatives governments, including that of Mike Harris in the 1990s, but never accomplished. The main opposition to loosening the regulations around liquor sales has been the unions who dominate employment in the LCBOs. Yet that is another reason Conservative governments should have been promoting this issue earlier. 

The principal union representing LCBO employees is OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employees Union), a union that regularly spends significant amounts of their employees’ forced dues during Ontario provincial elections to oppose Conservative governments. The fact that unions in Canada can spend dues their members have no choice in paying in this political manner is disgraceful and is not legal in most other countries, but Canada continues to have overly generous rules governing unions. As these public sector unions are consistently very active in Ontario provincial elections opposing Conservative candidates, it is surprising Conservative governments would not want to reduce their numbers by permitting more private sector sales of alcohol outside of the LCBO. 

Arguments posed by the affected unions and others against opening up the alcohol retail market include things like the risk of more alcohol abuse and the possibility of more underaged consumers being permitted to purchase alcohol by private sector retailers. Yet these issues have never been a problem in other jurisdictions. Tobacco products are already sold by the private sector and also have age restrictions, and no difficulties have been observed. As well, the rest of the world has been selling liquor for a very long time with no increase in alcohol abuse or youth problems. All of the opposition to these policies seems completely overblown. 

The real question is why the Ford government is doing this now. There has been a plan for some time to open up beer sales away from The Beer Store monopoly by 2026. The notion of having such a monopoly has been ridiculous for a very long time, especially considering that the current owners of The Beer Store are all foreign companies, but the province’s current agreement with The Beer Store is to ensure their monopoly until 2026. This is why it will cost the province $225 million to basically buy out the agreement with The Beer Store.  

The speculation is that the Ford government is doing this now because it plans to call an early election prior to the expected election date of June 2026, and views the loosening of alcohol sales as an election winner. The reason for an earlier election date, according to some, is that Ford would much rather be running when there is a federal government led by Justin Trudeau instead of by Pierre Poilievre. 

Whatever the reason, it is about time Ontario loosened up the ridiculously Victorian rules around alcohol that have prevailed in this province for far too long. All evidence in other provinces and around the world is that there will be no downsides to this change. And reducing a public sector union’s ability to spend our taxpayer dollars in an attempt to sway elections is a bonus. Bottoms up! 

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