Ontario’s booze battle becomes a bar brawl.

Remember in the old western movies when the bad guy would punch the hero and everyone in the bar got into the fight. That is how it feels now that people are getting involved in the argument about beer, wine and liquor sales in Ontario.

It started as a dignified discussion of the disgusting inadequacies of Ontario’s Beer Stores and the foolishness of the politicians who continued to use the situation for their own interests. What it has evolved into is a revolt among beer drinkers and Liquor Control Board customers and trouble for Premier Wynne’s Whigs. They are now attempting to assess how little they need to do to quiet the riot.

One of their problems is that Finance Minister Charles Sousa has been emboldened by his banker–led council on government assets. They are telling him he can get more money from beer. His party also gets lots of political donations from the beer barons if they will just maintain the status quo. Meanwhile consumers are looking for real change. These are the consumers who voted for Wynne last year because they thought she was progressive. If is this demand is not met, the anger will grow louder.

It is certainly not this blog that is turning the tide. This blog is read mainly by politicos and media people. (And more than 200 of you are not even in Canada.) Babel-on-the-Bay has stood alone among Liberal and progressive bloggers in Ontario demanding change. We have to give the credit for the current weakening of the political stand in the booze battle to the Toronto Star. This blog might have been the gnat that annoyed the politicians but it is the Toronto Star with more than a half million Saturday readers that scares them into action. Wynne’s Whigs can ill-afford to give the finger to the Toronto Star.

Fighting valiantly for consumer support, the Beer Store and the Liquor Control Board (LCBO) have launched an advertising war in a last ditch attempt to stem the tide. It might cause a delaying action for the LCBO but the Beer Store will be changing. No matter what changes Ontario Finance Minister Sousa makes, it is likely to be an inadequate half-measure. We expect that anything less than allowing convenience stores to sell beer and Ontario wines will bring little succour to his government.

But when beer is resolved, it will become a battle over the LCBO. The facts are clear that the provincial government can raise more in taxes from freeing the liquor stores than continuing to force an uncomfortable, poorly merchandised and weak monopoly on the voters. And the one-time revenues from the sale of LCBO assets would go a long way to paying for electrifying GO trains or running a railway north to the Circle of Fire.

It might take the next three years to make the changes that are necessary in liquor sales but that is all the time the Wynne government will have. The government has to prove it is progressive and it will be popular moves such as opening beer and wine sales to convenience stores and privatizing the LCBO stores that give it the opportunity.

Ontario voters have made it very clear that they are no longer satisfied with paternalistic government. They were set to toss Premier McGuinty but he read the tea leaves and left. Wynne has a rare opportunity during this majority mandate to be progressive and daring. She made ground with her solution for pensions but she has a long way to go to bring Ontario into the 21st Century. To do that, she has to get out front and lead.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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