Strike shows it’s time to end the LCBO monopoly

Author: Jay Goldberg 2024/07/08

The LCBO union bosses have dragged Ontarians into what they are calling a “dry summer.”

Threatened by Premier Doug Ford’s plan to allow ready-to-drink beverages like coolers and seltzers to be sold at grocery stores and corner stores, the union shut down Ontarians’ access to gin, vodka and whisky.

The unions are gambling that inconveniencing Ontarians can convince Ford to back down and surrender to their war on convenience.

But the only thing this strike is going to do is show Ontarians, and Ford, is just how absurd it is to let a government-run liquor store have a monopoly over the marketplace.

Ontarians should be able to get a bottle of whisky where they want, when they want. They shouldn’t be stuck going to just one store, a store which opens late, closes early, and is, for millions of consumers, a long drive away.

Take a step back and imagine you’re a tourist coming to Ontario for the first time.

You can get cigarettes at every gas station. You can barely walk five minutes in one of the province’s cities without finding scores of different weed shops. But the only place in Ontario you can buy a bottle of whisky is the LCBO. And, thanks to the strike, you can’t even do that right now.

How does that make any sense?

The LCBO’s union workers have gone on strike because they’re worried. They’re worried that Ford allowing ready-to-drink beverages to be sold at grocery and corner stores is another big step toward end for the LCBO monopoly.

Ontario consumers, they reason, might figure out how utterly useless government-run liquor stores are. They might realize selling alcohol isn’t complicated and – gasp – anyone can do it.

Take a gander at what LCBO employees are paid these days and it’s little wonder they’re quaking in their boots about the possibility of change.

The average store manager at an LCBO makes $99,000. Senior store managers make $110,000. And they all get gold-plated government pensions.

LCBO employees are on strike to protect themselves, their big pay and their fancy pensions.

They’re not on strike to protect Ontarians.

Government monopolies over alcohol sales are becoming less and less common. Ontario’s experience is now the exception, not the rule.

In provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan, consumers have a great selection of stores that are convenient, carry more products and are open longer hours.

Don’t Ontarians deserve the same thing?

Some argue that Ford can’t end the LCBO monopoly because it would cost the government revenue. But government makes money through taxes on alcohol and price markups. The taxman will keep finding ways to make money on alcohol just like he does for cigarettes, cannabis and everything else.

The government will never have trouble figuring out how to tax and make a profit off alcohol sales. But there’s no reason to give it a monopoly over running stores.

When Ford announced the end of Ontario’s special deal with the Beer Store, he emphasized the importance of convenience and choice.

“People are excited they’re going to have the same choice and convenience as other Canadians and other people right across the world to buy a case of beer or a bottle of wine,” Ford said. “They’re excited to hear they’re finally going to be treated as adults.”

If Ontarians deserve convenience when it comes to beer and wine, surely Ontarians deserve that same convenience when it comes to vodka and gin.

The LCBO union bosses are providing an unintentional blessing with this strike. Ontarians are waking up to the fact this government monopoly belongs to the prohibition era, not the 2020s. Nobody needs a government employee to bag their beer or vodka.

Ford’s strategy for this strike should be simple. Thank the union for walking out and let them know they don’t need to come back. Local businesses can do their jobs better anyway.

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