Monday, January 17, 2005

Start the car, I know a whoopee spot, where the gin is cold but the piano's hot

The Citizen's editors come out in favour, surprisingly, of privatizing the LCBO: It makes no sense for Ontario to review how liquor, wine and beer are sold in the province but rule out any possibility of selling the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. The government announced another "expert panel" to tackle another thorny issue last week: more $1,000-a-day people to do the government's work. Finance Minister Greg Sorbara went out of his way to emphasize how the LCBO, Ontario's big government alcohol monopoly, is not for sale. But those who support the status quo in the province believe the government could end up selling stores as franchises or perhaps turning the business into an income trust, essentially privatizing the liquor stores through the back door. Why not privatize it through the front door instead? Defence of the government-run booze business is based on convenience, not philosophy: the government rakes in a pile of money from the stores; the LCBO has huge buying power; and government feels that a public corporation will be better at preventing unlawful drinking. Indeed, the one thing the LCBO loves to brag about is that it's the largest volume buyer of alcoholic beverages n the world. That this is largely because direct distribution of liquor by the state is a top-heavy, patronizing, unnecessary, and anti-competitive function of government - realized by many other administrative subdivisions in the western world - seems not to have crossed the minds of Ontario bureaucrats. I blame previous Conservative governments for this lapse, too; that an industry is a profitable one is not a reason to establish a provincial monopoly over it. The sweet, sweet flow of cash proved just too tempting, however, to the point where this self-evident observation actually needs to made: The idea that only a government-owned business can do a good job selling alcohol, or recycling bottles, is especially absurd in the post-Soviet era. It was absurd in the Soviet era, too; is the editorial board admitting they might have been fooled on that count right up until 1991? I realize the libertarian ideal of totally removing provincial control from the equation is unrealistic - but refraining from, at least, the uncomfortably Big Brother-esque spectacle of provincially-owned and operated liquor stores would be a good start.


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