Once again, the privately owned monopoly called The Beer Store seems to be winning the day with Ontario’s political leaders, even with a vague caveat aimed at appeasing small craft brewers.
After telling reporters she has “no intentions of allowing the sale of beer in convenience stores,” Wynne told an online “ask me anything” session this week that she’s having aconversation with the Ontario Craft Brewers Association to help them grow their business. Oh wait, maybe that means improving the display of their wares – in The Beer Store.
Unfortunately, for any adult seeking the right to choose where and when they purchase beer, Wynne has joined a long list of politicians who just can’t say no to the trio of big foreign-owned brewers, Labatt, Molson and Sleeman, that owns The Beer Store. Given the public interest in making beer more freely available, Wynne would be wise to reconsider.
It’s too bad the premier can’t see beyond the latest alarmist study from The Beer Store. It warns of job losses, lower government tax revenues and an increase in beer prices – up to $50 for a case of 24. Perhaps the sky will fall next.
Curiously, the company’s study used Alberta as a comparison, even though its system is entirely privatized, which mean the conclusions miss the point. If Ontario’s beer was sold in a more open marketplace, corner stores would still be competing with The Beer Store and the government-owned LCBO. Rivalry is good, especially for consumers.
Instead of accepting The Beer Store’s self-serving arguments at face value, Wynne should open up the system to competition and embrace the fact that in 2014 Ontarians want choices.
After all, taxes on alcohol can be set to make sure the government doesn’t lose money, regardless of where beer is purchased. There are ways to make sure the system works for all Ontarians instead of off-shore corporations, even if Labatt, Molson and Sleeman are generous contributors to all three political parties.
Certainly, shopping for beer in a corner store couldn’t be any worse than visiting one of the monopoly’s 448 Ontario outlets. With no real competition, the best part of the experience is that it’s over quickly. Except for those long weekend line-ups.
Still, it appears that Wynne is clinging to the idea that The Beer Store offers social protections for Ontarians from themselves. That’s a maternalistic argument, at best.
As the Star’s Rob Ferguson reports, Wynne’s spokesperson justified the status quo in an email that read: “Our government believes that the people of Ontario are well served by the current retail system for the sale of alcohol. It balances consumer access with a strong commitment to social responsibility.” This argument ignores the fact that the government already allows corner stores to sell cigarettes — with strict rules against selling to minors.
After so many years of inaction on this issue, we aren’t optimistic about any change soon. But Wynne would be well-advised to reconsider her position, and trust that Ontarians are mature enough to handle more convenient ways to buy beer.