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I Am Skooter
So here's us, on the raggedy edge.
When I'm walking under stars / I covet all the waning hours
— Neko Case, Tightly
July 18, 2005
Liquor Privatization: Again

A topic of perennial discussion in Canada is the privatization of liquor boards. This has been going on since I was slinging booze for a living, all those years ago.

Ontario has just rejected the notion, again, despite a government commissioned review that recommends it.

The Globe and Mail: Ontario rejects panel’s advice to sell LCBO

Private liquor sales are interesting, and an idea that I feel fairly ambivalent about. It’s long been my suspicion that either full or some form of partial privatization would result in a natural economic effect: those products that are immensely popular may drop in price, while those that are not are unlikely to be affect and if they are, are likely to increase in cost.

Part of this is a result of the LCBO’s status as one of the single largest purchasers are alcoholic beverages in the world: despite the fact that taxes on alcohol in Canada are prohibitive, prices are very competitive.

Basically, under a private model expect to see Canadian & Blue drop to next to nothing, while the price of Steam Whistle stays about the same. As a guy who cares what he’s drinking - I used to drink Upper Canada, until Sleeman bought the stuff and turned it into water - I see no advantage to this situation.

Market economics also dictate a reduction in selection in non-urban areas. No more stopping for that Uppder Canada or Inniskillin Pinot Noir at the liquor store just outside of Algonquin Park, in the middle of nowhere: these types of stores will likely stock strictly bulk brands - Canadian, Blue, Miller, Coors (Light? Blech.) and its ilk.

Beer at your coner store? Same selection likely. Gas stations in Newfoundland sell beer, but they don’t sell any good beer. There’s an immense difference.

Still, the government should, in my opinion, find way to let the private sector play a role, and reduce (if not eliminate) the barriers to entry.

The trickiest part is control and patrolling age limits: I was in line at the BC Liquor Store the other night when two staff members - one younger and smaller than me - were telling a customer that they weren’t going to sell them whatever they were buying because they’d “had enough for today.” I was shocked, and impressed.

Would private stores do the same? They have absolutely zero incentive to do so. Cigarettes are sold under a similar system, - but underage smoking is an enormous problem, and one that hasn’t been solved despite years of trying.

Alberta is the only province in the country with private sales (bastardized though they may be), and will likely remain so for sometime after British Columbia’s reversal of a privatization plan. I guess I’ll be buying scotch there on my way back from Saskatchewan at the beginning of August - just as an experiment, of course.

Posted by skooter at 1:22 PM This entry is filed under Politics.

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