I love a bold red wine in an oversized glass. I enjoy a frosty cold beer on a hot afternoon. I make a wicked cosmopolitan martini. But if I want to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner and it’s 6:05pm on a Monday, I’m screwed. Our local L.C.B.O. closes shop at 6pm sharp every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
What’s a L.C.B.O., you ask? It stands for the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Yup, our provincial government has a strangle hold on the purchase of any alcoholic beverage for personal consumption. You would think that because the LCBO is one of the world’s largest buyers of wine, beer and spirits, folks in Ontario would be happy about the Walmart-like prices on a global selection of brands. Too bad that’s not the case.
In 2011-2012, the LCBO had revenue topping $4.7 billion. About 35% or $1.63 billion of that went to the Ontario government in dividends to help pay for health care, education and other services. As a Canadian, I enjoy these government funded services and I don’t begrudge paying for them with my taxes.
What I do object to is a Gov’t run monopoly that forbids any market competition and gouges their tax paying public with higher prices. Apparently the cost of 500,000 quality control tests on 22,000 boozy products a year (“to help protect the public”), paying for professional sommeliers and having a union workforce prevents them from offering reasonable prices. And nothing makes me more irked than to find Canadian wine available for less in the US.
Now the union is threatening a strike. Again. Right before a national holiday that’s affectionately known as the May “Two-Four” weekend, rather than Victoria Day. It’s a cheeky reference to the number of beers found in a standard case because Canadian’s like their long weekends’ almost as much as they like their beer. This time the union is saying the LCBO isn’t being “fair” to workers. Much like every other time.
I’m not anti-union by any means, although I believe we can all think of cases where union leaders have done more harm than good for their members and employers. Who doesn’t want to be treated fairly? I get it, but how’s this for a crazy idea – if the LCBO is truly one the world’s largest buyers of alcohol, why don’t they use their purchasing power to give their thirsty tax paying citizens some fair prices to go with fair wages?
If the union goes ahead with their walkout, I’ll simply be taking my money to Quebec (a 15 min drive from my office). Quebecers still have a government controlled liquor board, but at least you can buy beer and wine at the local grocery store — for less than you pay in Ontario. Even small freedoms still taste sweet.
Here’s what I would like to know. Would you be willing to pay 35% more for goods you are also taxed on, to fund public services? On what and why?