Petition to free our beer in Ontario 0
The biggest news this week in the beer world is the fact that we will remain unable to purchase beer and wine in convenience stores in Ontario for the foreseeable future.
This week the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, which represents 7,500 convenience stores across Ontario, submitted a petition to Queen’s Park on the behalf of people in favour of the sale of beer and wine in convenience stores.
It consisted of 112,500 names gathered from various locations in the province. For reference, that is slightly less than 1% of Ontario residents.
The petition was dismissed, which is unsurprising.
In a recent Angus Reid Public Opinion done on behalf of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, we learned that approximately 60% of those polled support the sale of beer and wine in convenience stores.
It is interesting to note that support for this measure wanes the further from Quebec the polling sample was taken. In Southwestern Ontario, it remains a majority, but barely. In Eastern Ontario, nearly three quarters of those polled support this reform.
This is possibly due to the fact that they are close enough to Quebec, which allows sales of beer and wine in convenience stores, to have observed that nothing catastrophic has happened as a result of a more civilized policy of control. For instance, fires are not visible from across the river and there are no raiding parties gathering in Hull.
If the majority of Ontarians polled seem to be in favour of reforming the current system, you have to wonder why the Ontario government seems so reticent to enact change. On the surface, the issue may seem like nanny state protectionism, but try and put yourself in the shoes of whomever has to make the decision.
The system as it currently stands makes money for the province of Ontario. The LCBO returned a dividend of $1.63 billion to the province of Ontario in 2011, not counting HST and excise taxes. That is not chump change. No matter which party you represent, creating an alternate sales system that eats into a significant revenue stream for the province is going to have repercussions.
Plus, you have to imagine that the majority of people responding to this poll are envisioning an ideal situation in which their local convenience store will carry their favourite tipple. But next time you go to your convenience store, take a look at the amount of space that’s in there and think about what kind of selection a convenience store is likely to be able to support.
The situation will not be ideal out of the gate. It would, perforce, be an auxiliary mechanism to the LCBO which is able to support product diversity.
So, let’s say you’re any politician from any party and you support this petition. This is a one-shot deal. You never get to reverse it. It will be unpopular with your finance people because you’re gambling on an unproven stream of taxation.
It will be unpopular with the people at the LCBO. It is probably going to be unpopular with AB InBev, MolsonCoors and Sapporo, which own The Beer Store. It will be unpopular with 40% of the population of Ontario. Because the change will not be instantaneous or ideal, the 60% who are in favour of it will slowly melt away. If there’s an increase in crime as a result, your party just bought the responsibility for it. If there’s an increase in impaired driving, your party just bought the responsibility for it.
Suddenly, not doing anything about this begins to look pretty good, because the likely upside is miniscule.
Personally, I’m in favour of reform. It will happen eventually because the Ontario system is archaic and the public is increasingly aware. Let’s aim for 5% of the population on the next petition and see what happens.
Jordan St. John writes about a number of different facets of beer at saintjohnswort.ca.