Ontario’s treasurer tries to fly alone.

Ontario Treasurer Dwight Duncan nearly crashed the other day. He tried to steal economist Don Drummond’s thunder by announcing some of his own initiatives to save money. The three areas he talked about were the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) head office and main store in Toronto, Service Ontario and support for Ontario racing. After digesting what he had to say, you have to admit, he is no Don Drummond. Duncan seems happy with half measures and faint stabs at the problems. The poor man does not seem ready to fly alone.

In fact, at the end of his presentation, you were not sure if he was trying to discuss things sensibly or simply dissing Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in Ontario.

Start at the beginning with the LCBO proposal. He told his audience he wants to sell that prime piece of real estate down by the Toronto Harbour that holds a wonderful liquor store where you can buy products from all over the world. And incidentally, the head office of LCBO is there. We always thought that store seemed to be a perk of working down there on Toronto’s waterfront.

But why just sell the land? Why not sell the LCBO?

Drummond has no concept of this aspect of government. He should stick to banking. The facts are that sooner or later, the Ontario government has to get out of the liquor business. The government is in it for the wrong reasons.  It milks the LCBO as a cash cow. The government restricts the business opportunity to appease long-dead temperance fanatics. It is not getting the money out of the business that it can and it is interfering with good marketing practices. How stupid can the government be? The truth is that private sector bidding for the store franchises would produce huge one-time amounts to pay down the deficit. And the ongoing tax revenue from those stores would easily replace current revenues. Dwight Duncan thinks he might get a couple hundred million for the headquarters.  He has no idea what the entire lash-up is worth. What a piker!

And while he is at it, Duncan can get rid of Brewers Warehousing. In any other jurisdiction a monopoly like that would be illegal.

And yet he wants to privatize Service Ontario! Maybe, he says. He does not seem too sure. By the wayDuncan, the operative word is “Service.” Sure, privatize it. Just make sure private operators also provide service to Ontario before you save too much.

Dwight’s third idea is the most hair-brained of all! He wants to cut off the subsidies for horse racing in Ontario? That might be alright but does that mean he is giving up the provincial share of the racing handle at the tracks? Is he giving the tracks more of the money they are making on slots? Is he going to let all those slot joints play with the big kids and become full-blown casinos?

Wow,Duncan forgot to mention privatizing them. We want to buy one!


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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