Under the Tuscan sun the scent of lavender softly filled the air as hints of cherry and vanilla infused my palate. Falling in love had never been so easy. Who couldn't love the most perfect tannic experience of a super-Tuscan?
As the slightly spicy notes on the finish embraced my senses, I knew that I had found the one. I walked up to the counter to have a case of the wine shipped to my home in Toronto, but to no avail. The over-regulated Canadian environment, characterized by government monopolies, reared its ugly head. The only other place the winery could not ship to was Utah, but that's a whole other blog post.
In Canada, provincial liquor boards, with exception of the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, have the sole authority to import, warehouse, and distribute wine through their various retail outlets. Imports of alcohol require prior authorization from the appropriate liquor commission before Customs will clear them -- a cumbersome process for a small winery in San Gimignano. An unfair trade barrier, n'est pas?
The justification for the government grip-hold of the liquor market is premised on public safety or the public interest -- the availability of alcohol under a private system is hypothesized to yield an increase consumption. Stastistics do not support this preposterous claim.
After scouring heaps of literature on the subject, I remain unconvinced of any compelling reason to believe that a government monopoly in liquor retailing protects the public interest more effectively than private ownership with a competitive retail market. In effect, all that is achieved by government monopolies, like the LCBO, is a restriction on consumer choice. But there is a beacon of hope -- Alberta.
Alberta's experience reads like a Harlequin romance novel to a wine enthusiast like myself (And of course, Fabio appears on the cover). In 1993, the Alberta Liquor Control Board exited the retail market. Privatization brought an increase in the number of retail stores, including new stores in communities unserved by the ALCB. Conversely, few communities once served by the ALCB did not gain a private retailer, signalling that the ALCB was operating inefficiently. Most importantly, Albertans now enjoy a wider variety of products than ever before.
Privatization is often wrongfully associated with the idea of revoking a governments ability to legislate and regulate. Alcoholic products will still be required to meet the standards of the federal Food and Drug Act and Ontario, much like Alberta, through the LLBO can continue to ensure legislative and regulatory compliance.
Even an expert panel appointed by the government recommended that the LCBO be privatized. John Lacey, chair of the panel said: "Following a six month review, our Panel has come to the unanimous conclusion that the Ontario government should withdraw from ownership and operation of wholesale and retail beverage alcohol business, and instead create a regulated but competitive marketplace."
So why don't we do it? Answer: the Ontario Liquor Boards Employees' Union (OLBEU/NUPGE) and of course, the government fears losing its cash cow. The propaganda which spews from the OLBEU is not even worth addressing.
It is a common misconception that Ontario will lose substantive revenues if it is to privatize the LCBO. Alberta was able to remedy this problem by affixing a a flat mark-up rate to the wholesale price of wine. Not to mention that a private retailer, like all retailers, would have to pay taxes on their profits.
If this is about the public interest, which I suspect it is not, why doesn’t the government also sell cigarettes in the public interest? Answer: the publc interest is a euphemism for: "because I said so". How dare anyone argue with the public interest.