The liquor board’s cocktail recipe of the month, offered on its website, is for “gin and lemonade,” which you make with a shot of gin and some lemonade. The gin is cherry, so there’s that. Its three recommended beers of the month are themed for the hockey playoffs. They are — I am not kidding — Molson Canadian in a bottle, Molson Canadian in a can, and Molson Canadian in a larger can. The value the LCBO’s adding that a private retailer couldn’t is not obvious.
David Reevely, “LCBO union uses government’s rhetoric against it in brewing labour battle”, National Post, 2017-04-06.
April 17, 2017
March 24, 2017
Michael Pinkus on the odd choices of wines to celebrate some Ontario wine luminaries:
Let’s be honest, the LCBO is lackadaisical, at best, when it comes to promoting Ontario wines, and they do it with such a blasé attitude it is embarrassing in the way they continue to absolutely fail the people of Ontario … let me explain and expand.
The main feature of the April 1, 2017 release is “Visionaries, Innovators and Pioneers” (VIP) – on a global scale – here you’ll see names you recognize and wineries that are household names (or one’s that should be) – people like Angelo Gaja (Italy), Ben Glaetzer (Australia), Ken Forrester (South Africa), Michel Chapoutier (France) and Nicolas Catena (Argentina) and for each they pair a wine to go along with them … I question the wine selection for these iconic wine luminaries, but what the hey, sometimes those iconic wines are sold out (icon wines do that) and you then have to go for secondary wines by those producers.
Then I reached the part with our local VIPs: Moray Tawse (true, a more recent member of the VIP club and in my opinion kind of an easy choice by the LCBO), even more lazy are the wines selected, far from what I would call his “iconic” ones; but that seems to be par-for-the-course in this release. Tawse makes single vineyard / single block wines that are “the bomb”, yet the LCBO chose a “Growers Blend” and a “Sketches” wine, seriously?
But the one that incensed me the most was Chateau des Charmes, not for the man they named, Paul Bosc Sr., who is a Visionary, Pioneer AND Innovator in Ontario, but the wine that was chosen to represent him: Cabernet Icewine? When I saw that, you could have knocked me over with a feather; what happened to Gamay Noir Droit? Single vineyard varietal offerings? Sparkling wine? Or even Equuleus? But instead of showing off these iconic / original table wines the LCBO goes for the easy layup of Icewine; which isn’t even what Bosc is known for (though he makes excellent versions of it), that honour should have gone to Inniskillin (Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser)
September 18, 2016
Rick VanSickle vents about the LCBO’s amazingly tone-deaf marketing:
Sorry, LCBO, but I don’t get you. Such a lame-o release on the birthday of our great country July 1, with paltry few Canadian wines released to celebrate our big day, and presumably a few folks out there looking to party with local wines, and then suddenly in the middle of September, you drop the big one.
What up with that? I mean, the Sept. 17 issue of the Vintages mag, with pages and pages of features on Ontario wines and the biggest selection of local wines of the year — am I missing something? Is this some sort of key date for us in Ontario and Canada?
I want to be there during your obviously very detailed board meetings to listen in on the thinking behind your planning. When you get to, say, July 1, does anyone go: “Hey, that’s Canada Day, let’s flood the aisles with great Canadian wine. It’s what the people want, the people who pay for our largesse, the people we work for.” Well, no, of course not, that’s ridiculous.
Instead, as they count down the calendar, they go: “OK, what do we have for the week of Sept. 17? Why, there’s absolutely nothing going on, so let’s make it the biggest Ontario wine release of the year! Yes, perfect!”
Of course, what does it matter anyway? It’s not like the guy down the street is doing any better because there is no guy down the street. It’s the beauty of a monopoly — guilt-free decisions because there is no wrong decision if you are the only game in town.
For example (stay with me here, we’ll get to the wine), if the government decided it was going to force a shoe-store monopoly on its populace and came to the conclusion at a big swanky retreat where such decisions are made (pure speculation) that it would be so cool to put out a big display of Converse runners at all their stores on the first day of winter. No winter boots, no mukluks, just running shoes and sandals. Wouldn’t that be hilarious? lol.
It’s funny but not really funny. We just accept that it’s wrong and carry on like a monopoly is beyond reproach, beyond accountability.
For the record, the Canada Day Vintages release featured a cover story called: South Side Story: Wines of Southern France with 12 pages of spectacular photography and enticing bottles of French wine proudly displayed with glowing reviews and effusive praise for all.
September 26, 2015
Rick Van Sickle on the LCBO’s recent decision to hand over the rare wine auction market to a private auctioneer:
Quietly last week, Ontario’s booze monopoly finally threw in the towel over its glitzy rare and fine wine auctions and awarded the contract to an independent auction house — another case of letting private industry do a job that the LCBO couldn’t handle.
Canadian auction house Waddington’s will now conduct the auctions under a special licence through the LCBO.
The company added a new addition to their portfolio of fine art and luxury goods – Waddington’s Fine Wine and Spirits Auctions. “Ontario wine enthusiasts will now be able to better manage their cellars of fine wines and spirits with this connection to the enormous world wine market,” said Waddington’s President Duncan McLean.
The Toronto-based, Canadian-owned auction company was awarded the exclusive contract to provide fine wine and spirit auction services in Ontario under the authority of the LCBO, a first for an Ontario auction company. Waddington’s conducted the LCBO’s Vintages Fine Wine and Spirits auctions from 2009 until 2013.
The inaugural live fine wine auction will be conducted Dec. 12 at Waddington’s Toronto gallery, and an online fine wine auction will be offered Nov. 23-26. These auctions launch what will be a regular schedule of wine and spirits auctions and events for which Waddington’s is currently accepting consignments. All wines consigned are stored in a secure, temperature, light, and humidity-controlled wine vault.
Published on 24 Nov 2014
A documentary exploring the peculiar system of alcohol retail and distribution in Ontario.
The beverage alcohol system in Ontario is unique in the world. A government monopoly and a few private companies enjoy preferential access to the province’s consumers. Meanwhile, about 300 Ontario breweries, wineries, and distillers face a number of bureaucratic and structural barriers that effectively shut them out of the market in Ontario. This film tries to explain the origins of the beverage alcohol system in Ontario, and what it means for producers and consumers in the province today.
H/T to Eric Beiers for the link.
September 24, 2015
At the Toronto Beer Blog, a less-than-enthused look at the latest changes to minimally change the just-barely-beyond-prohibition-era rules for selling beer in Ontario:
This has been a noisy day in the wonderful world of beer sales in Ontario. The Liberal government released the details of the new 195 page master agreement between The Beer Store, the Province (LCBO), and the new kids on the block, grocery stores.
Much of the information is what we heard when they announced it with the budget. Some more details have come out. If you read my thoughts in April, you will remember I was not happy. I’m still not.
The good from today’s news is there are some clear definitions of what constitutes a grocery store (10 000 sq/feet dedicated to groceries, not primarily identified as a pharmacy); that the 20% craft shelf space is for both grocery stores and The Beer Store, and that there cannot be a fee to get listed (though we all know how effectively the province enforces pay-to-play in bars around the province); and that they have some novel system to divide sales licenses between both huge chains and independent grocers.
The old news about shared shipping for smaller breweries and no volume limit for a second on-site retail location are accurate, and very good news.
But here’s the thing: This is just more Ontario political craziness.
This is to “level the field”, apparently for small brewers, who nobody would suggest get a fair shake in the current system.
But what could have been an actual leveling of the playing field, turned out to be more insanity and government control and meddling. And remember, I’m saying that as a sworn lefty nutjob, who generally thinks having controls and regulations is a good thing.
Remember, these are not the ravings of a far-right-wing free-enterprise-maniac … these are the regrets of a self-described “sworn lefty nutjob”:
A level playing field would be one where anybody could apply for a license to sell beer, and do it. A brewery can pick and choose who they sell to, as a retailer can choose who they do business with. Nobody would need to guarantee a percentage of shelf space, because the market would control what products were successful and got shelf space.
This isn’t a level playing field, it’s just a bunch of new rules to try to counter how horrible we’ve allowed our playing field to get. Yes, it will be more convenient for people who shop at one of the 450 stores that have a license. But the agreement still favours The Beer Store heavily (for instance, grocers are limited in the volume they can sell. They can exceed the limit, but then have to pay a fine to the LCBO who distribute it to, you guessed it, the breweries who own The Beer Store to offset their lost sales. Seriously).
January 22, 2015
In the latest issue of Michael Pinkus Wine Review, Michael talks about the hints and portents (dealing with the Ontario government requires a certain amount of Kremlinological observation skills) that a tiny measure of privatization may be coming:
There’s a rumour in the wind that a certain amount of privatization is coming to Ontario (wouldn’t that be nice), but I wouldn’t get my hopes up about it just yet – no time line has been given and I am sure that ‘more study’ is necessary … and of course, if track record is any indication, this government will find some way to either screw it up or make it such a complicated piece of legislation that it’ll take years to get through all the red tape behind it. I once heard Jerry Agar, of NewsTalk 1010 fame, say (and I’m paraphrasing here) ‘if you want something screwed up get government involved’; he’s a proponent of the private sector because they can do it more efficiently than government if only ‘the man’ would just get outta the way … I would have to agree with him here. So far the government has made a mess of our liquor system that even repressed, despotic and 3rd world countries have better access to alcohol then we do.
Sadly, I believe it might be too little too late for some of Ontario wineries who have suffered this long, but might not be around to see the light at the end of the tunnel (if and/or when it comes). Yes, this might be the end of the line for a number of our precious wineries and we only have ourselves to blame for their demise. They have been as vocal as any sector, crying for help, not necessarily a hand out (which the grape growers seem to get) as much as a hand up – basically they’ve been pleading with each government: “please give us access to (our own) market (at the very least) and we’ll show you what we can do”, all to no avail.
Why the pessimistic attitude? Let’s look at the facts. It takes some rather deep pockets to own a winery in Ontario, that or a good credit rating, because money is the number one thing required to open the doors. But making it is more of an uphill battles then in any other business I this province. Post-1993, when the majority of the wineries around today opened their doors, your cellar door is the only place you can sell your wine – sure you could tap into the LCBO and the restaurant market, but that’s it. And although recent federal regulations have been lifted regarding the selling and especially shipping of wine across the country, many provinces have yet to enact their own legislation governing the practice, hence leaving the entire topic, not to mention hundreds of wineries, in limbo, unable to tap the rest of the country as a market for fear of breaking the law. With so few avenues to sell home-grown wine the government has basically handcuffed the industry – let alone the number of asinine rules that govern the industry from within (more on that next time) – it has all been put in place it would seem, so that wineries are destined to fail; that they remain open is a testament to their resolve and passion.
August 20, 2014
In the Toronto Star, Richard Brennan reports on a new study by the C.D. Howe Institute calling for the province to join the modern era:
The “quasi-monopoly” LCBO and The Beer Store have hosed Ontario consumers long enough, a C.D. Howe Institute report says.
The right-wing think tank said the Ontario government should strip them both of their almost exclusive right to sell beer, wine and spirits, suggesting the report proves that opening up to alcohol sales to competition will mean lower prices.
“The lack of competition in Ontario’s system for alcoholic beverage retailing causes higher prices for consumers and foregone government revenue,” states the 30-page report, Uncorking a Strange Brew: The Need for More Competition in Ontario’s Alcoholic Beverage Retailing System, to be released publicly Wednesday.
The report includes tables comparing Ontario beer prices to other provinces with greater private sector involvement, particularly with Quebec, where a case of 24 domestic beers can be as much as $10 cheaper and even more for imported brands.
Since 1927, when the Liquor Control Act was passed, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and the privately owned Brewers Warehousing Company Limited have had a stranglehold on alcohol sale in the province.
“The Beer Store’s quasi-monopoly of beer retailing is … an anachronism,” the report says, referring to the foreign-owned private retailer that is protected by provincial legislation.
May 29, 2014
Just as the Ontario election writ was dropped, the small wineries of Ontario started pushing the Pairs Perfectly campaign, to move the province toward a more mature wine retailing model (like British Columbia’s). While I’d prefer a full privatization model (like Alberta’s), at least the move to allowing some private wine stores would be an improvement. Despite the quick work to launch the campaign, Michael Pinkus says it’s already being forgotten on the hustings:
Ontario is deep into an election campaign and the best thing done so far is a little initiative from the Wine Council called “Pairs Perfectly”. They’ve backed it with radio and television promos and in truth they make a lot of sense. Ontario is one of the only provinces not to have some sort of private system in place, either along with their provincial monopoly (a la British Columbia) or fully privatized (a la Alberta). This initiative seemed to be already formed and waiting in the wings: no sooner had an election been called than the “Pairs Perfectly” slogan was in my inbox (with its twitter handle @PairsPerfectly, hashtag #PairsPerfectly and website PairsPerfectly.com), articles were written to explain the notion, social media seemed abuzz from wineries to writers to the average-Joe, all were tweeting, re-tweeting, blogging, tumbling, gramming, hooting, hollering, casting, accosting and I initially thought, “Wow, the buzz is really out there, this just might have legs, or at least more legs that that ‘My Wine Shop’ that seemed to go nowhere.”
But 6 weeks is a long time in the political realm, just ask Rob Ford, so much can happen over the course of 6 weeks that can turn the tide on a well-thought-out, well-organized plan of attack. Instead of the Ontario booze media jumping whole hog onto the initiative and writing piece after piece after piece about the benefits of privatization to keep the idea in our collective consciousness, a new issue has come along to polarize: the VQA, which I have repeatedly said is a sham of a system, most notably because of its tasting panel. Now there’s a new horse to ride, a newer and shinier issue to get all worked up about. The VQA is easy pickings because it is so wrong, crushes creativity and stymies’ our winemakers making them think “will this pass VQA”. Every winery has come into conflict with it at least once in its existence and it needs an overhaul (radical? Maybe not, but definitely a big tweak).
I believe this: Ontario is a mess and is destined to remain that way long after this election season has been put to bed. We already know the Liberals position on privatization of any sort (over their dead body); the NDP seem in lockstep with the Liberals train of thought because it would disrupt union jobs. And the Conservatives, before the campaign the only party willing to talk privatization, have somehow gone mute about the whole issue – as if someone told them not to rock the boat; which makes them the wild card. But if history shows us anything it’s doubtful it’ll get past committee if it ever does come up.
And don’t even get me started on the asinine things happening on the beer side of the ledger. The Beer Store’s cockamamie campaign against corner stores carrying the product that they have a duopoly to sell (with the LCBO), is as misguided and ill-conceived as any I can think of. Does beer not also get sold in corner stores in other provinces? Are all those owners corrupt-minor-sellers? It seems to have galvanized the public against them; especially when people find out they aren’t government controlled; which a vast majority of the province was under the false notion it was. This also took focus away from the larger issue of an open and freer market for all in the alcohol industry (craft brewers, craft winemakers, etc.)
May 10, 2014
Michael Pinkus attended last night’s award ceremony and found the star of the proceedings was the master of ceremonies, former LCBO head Andy Brandt:
The 20th Annual Ontario Wine Awards were held Friday night at the Queen’s Landing Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake hosted by former head of the LCBO Andy Brandt; who had to be one of the unintentionally funny MC I’ve ever experienced. Between the butchering of words (Pinot “Griss”, Cabernet “Frank”, “Sara” for Syrah, “Ca-lom-us” for Calamus and “Toss-e” for Tawse) and the total omission of names he did not want to pronounce like Musque and Viognier during the presentation — he seemed uncomfortable giving out the awards, but was good at puns and for a few stories. All-in-all Brandt was a train-wreck, but at least you knew the room was listening for his next faux-pas and he was the talk of the room over beers and desserts at the after-party (the most talked about host I can remember). One person commented to me, “He’s my favourite MC at [The Ontario Wine Awards] ever, I just never knew what was going to come out of his mouth from one moment to the next. Obviously pronunciation has gone out the window tonight, it’s a free-for-all.” Others could not believe that the once head of the LCBO could not pronounce grape varieties correctly.
May 4, 2014
In rational jurisdictions — where you don’t have a government-mandated monopoly supplier — following the advice of Will Lyons makes a lot of sense. For obvious reasons, wine fans in Ontario can only stare in envy at the concept of competitive pricing for wine and not being limited to what the government chooses to bring in for sale:
IF YOU ENJOY WINE, are starting to take more than a passing interest and have perhaps bought the odd reference book about vino varieties, it might be time to think about beginning your very own wine cellar.
The worst habit you can get into is to stop off at your local wine shop once a week and pick up the odd few bottles. A much better approach is to buy by the dozen or a six pack, as most wine merchants will offer a discount on a mixed case. Better still is to select two or three wine merchants, order their catalogs or look online and, when you’re in the mood, spend some time selecting your favorite wines and comparing prices. I like to do this on the weekend, with a cup of tea and all the catalogs spread out over the kitchen table.
But a cellar isn’t just a few cases of your favorite wine. It may sound like a cliché but a good cellar requires a bit of forethought and planning to provide pleasurable drinking over the long term. I like to break wine collecting into three categories: wines for immediate drinking, wines to lay down that will improve with age, and investment wines — those special bottles whose value will steadily increase year on year.
I started my own cellar soon after I left university and began working in the wine trade. I well remember buying a case of northern Rhône Syrah to lay down — I still have four bottles — and six bottles of a well-known New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc producer. I now buy most of my wine twice a year: during the bin end sales at the beginning of the year, when merchants are unloading old stock at discounted prices, and when a wine is offered En Primeur (wine futures). This is where the wine is put up for sale from the barrel, months before it is bottled and shipped. The advantages are that you can guarantee an allocation of your chosen wine, you can choose the size of the bottle it is shipped in and also secure it at a discounted price. However, the latter isn’t always guaranteed — Bordeaux 2010 being a case in point. Many of the wines are cheaper now than when they were when released En Primeur.
January 9, 2014
Michael Pinkus on the Ontario government’s latest cynical ploy to shore up electoral support in a wine-producing riding just in time for a by-election:
There was a certain amount of optimism over the holidays coming out of the wineries of Ontario as the Wynne Liberals, who lead this province, announced a new initiative to get Ontario wines into the hands of more Ontarians … or at least that’s how they are selling it.
In case you missed it, Kathleen Wynne and the Corrupt Liberals (sounds like a great 90’s band) have released their latest McGuffin on the land, an announcement that Ontario VQA wine is to be sold at farmer’s markets throughout the province. It’s all part of their 75 million dollar plan to support the local wineries and help them grow. The timing couldn’t be better, for them anyway; this announcement comes just before a soon-to-be scheduled by-election in Niagara. Funny, how it is only now the Premier and her troops have decided to finally help the wineries of Ontario … seems rather convenient. I starting to experience a little déjà vu about this though; didn’t they use this same technique to grab a couple of seats in the last election?
Now, before you accuse me of being anti-Liberal, I’m not. Before this government completely let me down I would have counted myself among them, but my personal politics aside, I’m not anti-Liberal, I’m pro-Ontario Winery — and anything that can help these hard working, passionate folks get their wines into more hands of the Ontario populace, the happier I am.
If they truly want to help the wine industry in this province stop handcuffing them as to where they can sell their wines. Give them actual retail space like the Wine Shoppes and Wine Rack stores that Peller and Vincor hold onto like gold (because they are). Let them sell their wines not just at Farmers’ Markets but at festivals and events where you can sample the wine before you buy. Nothing makes attendees of festivals more annoyed than our prohibition era laws, that keep them from buying bottles of their favourite wines tasted at expos, festivals or events. It’s mind boggling and baffling to any who have attended wine shows in other countries. Let wineries actually sell their wines at these events … I promise, no one is going to open the bottle in their car on the way home; no more so than they would after purchasing it at an LCBO store.
And so that it’s not just my voice of dissension you hear, allow me to bring winery owner Daniel Lenko into the conversation, as he posted his thoughts on Facebook: “Ok, this could get long winded. I think in general wine producers in Niagara are supportive of this olive branch being offered. Why not? This is the start of something, and anything is better than nothing. Here are the pitfalls: 1) You can’t sample wine before 11am legally, and farmers markets primarily occur in the early morning hours. 2) Can I have a stand-alone store in the “PATH” and call it “The Farmers Market”. I will offer produce as well. Or is this too civil? 3) I can’t warehouse anything offsite so that means that I must drive pallets of wine back and forth daily to Niagara, how environmentally irresponsible. 4) And hold on a second … Why is it that [Cellared in Canada] wines can be sold ANYWHERE in private stores and wines grown and vinified in Ontario can only now, 25 years later, be available at farmers markets. It really feels like I am a second class citizen here”.
September 19, 2013
In the latest Ontario Wine Review, Michael Pinkus talks about the opening of three new “Ontario Boutique” LCBO stores. These stores are the LCBO’s response to rising demand for quality Ontario wines … opening stores to directly compete with the wineries.
Well it happened; the LCBO opened their Ontario Boutiques to great fanfare on September 12, in three cities: Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Windsor … three places that have wineries nearby. Three places where the local populace could hop in their cars and within 15 minutes be at any of a dozen wineries in the area. The way we should all view this is the LCBO utilized the Wal-Mart approach to competition: get in there and fight it out with already established businesses. According to reports, they are beautiful, well-stocked and something to see. Now, I’m not questioning whether or not the LCBO was going to do a nice job on these in-store boutiques, heck they have the money to sink into them (yours and mine), I question their location and I question why the Wal-Mart tactics?
Someone who did get it (Bob) emailed me directly, putting it very succinctly: “The Wine Council’s information shows that the majority of VQA wines are still sold at the wineries. I asked one of their staff why they were putting a new VQA [boutique] in the Glendale store in St. Catharines rather than Toronto, and was told that it was because they sold more VQA wine in that store than any other in their system. Obviously, they are intent on trying to steal as much business away from the local wineries as possible, and therefore to deny the wineries (for the most part Canadian small businesses) as much profit as possible.”
While another reader, Gaye, admitted she has finally seen the light: “I always took your rants re: the LC mildly, as I like being able to shop in the “biggest” importer of wines in the world (sic). But I love Ontario wines, and living in Toronto always bemoan the difficulty of going to Niagara wineries and driving back … for obvious reasons. So I thought these boutiques were inevitable and of course would be in the place most Ontario wine was drunk, Toronto. As your excellent wife said, “a no-brainer”. This is incredible, opening in Niagara Falls? As if our wine was just something to be sold to tourists. Now I’m totally on side.”
September 5, 2013
Sounds like a reasonable thing, doesn’t it? The LCBO is the primary distribution channel for all Ontario wine, so making the best of the province’s wines more accessible is a good thing, yes? Well, sorta, as Michael Pinkus explains:
The LCBO must think we’re all stupid … that or they are run by a bunch of nincompoops – or maybe it’s a combination of both. On September 12, 2013 the Ontario wineries are finally going to see the fruits of their labours sold in special, larger and more prominent sections in some LCBO locations. Now if you were running the LCBO (more apropos to say: if you ran the circus), but if you ran the LCBO and you had some extra money kicking around and deemed it time to (finally) help Ontario wineries, show pride in the wines this province makes, and get the word out that Ontario is making world class wines, where would you put those new locations?
I asked my wife, an American, who can’t seem to grasp the concept of the LCBO, that very same question: “if you were opening up new sections within existing LCBO stores to promote Ontario wines where would you put them?” Her answer was immediately, “Toronto, it’s a no-brainer,” she said, “why where are they putting them?”
London, Ottawa, Kingston and Kitchener also all come to mind as potential locations for these new “boutiques” before the three locations the LCBO has chosen: Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and, you guessed it, Windsor; if they added Belleville to the mix they’d really hit the quad-fecta – but I shouldn’t give them any ideas – who knows, maybe that’s already in the works.
Why these locations matter is because they are smack dab in the heart of wine county; where wine already exists. There the locals have access to drive to their favourite wineries to buy their wine. As we all should know by now the LCBO can’t have you shopping at the competition, can they? Not when their unwritten mandate is to rule the province with an iron fist where booze is concerned … big sister Wynne doesn’t want to take her eye off the bottle, not for a second. Why you might ask would the LCBO put their stores in these locations? Think about it this way: when Wal-Mart comes to town where do they park their stores? Right next to the Canadian Tires and the Zellers locations (or as close as possible anyway) – they want to take on the competition directly. The LCBO is placing these new expanded Ontario sections in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Windsor – I trust you see the similarity.
June 4, 2013
This is kinda fascinating:
What started out as a simple privacy commissioner complaint has turned into a constitutional challenge of the validity of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) — and this time the Board has only itself to blame for the brouhaha, proving once again that Ontario’s LCBO is so far out of touch with the realities of today’s world, it’s downright scary. At a time when they should be thinking about transitioning out of the alcohol business, the Ontario provincial government and the LCBO seem to be clinging to its very existence with even more tenacity and verve than before. They’re like the old boxer clinging to past glories who just has to show you the right hook he can still throw — yet only ends up throwing out his shoulder. In the LCBO’s case, the word “Control” won’t be pried away from its “cold dead hands” anytime soon… or will it? In its most recent fight, the LCBO is proving it is a government entity most in need of being on the chopping block — if not the auction block — of government institutions that should be moved over to the private sector.
[. . .]
Why the LCBO has chosen to play hardball over such a trivial matter is incomprehensible; according to reports, the LCBO has decided to appeal the order and has asked that the records be sealed in the process. This seems to contravene common sense. “A government entity has chosen to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars to fight an order by the Privacy Commissioner whose sole purpose is to make these decisions,” Porter says.
Now fed up with the collection of information, Porter and his team have decided to question the entire existence of the LCBO as it contravenes the Constitution Act of 1867 by challenging the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (IILA) itself — which bans the free flow of goods (including alcohol, wine and beer) between the provinces. The argument hinges on Section 121: “All articles of Growth, Produce or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.” This challenge could, and would if successful, lead to the downfall of the LCBO. Social networks were abuzz with the news about the challenge. Alfred Wirth, president and director at HNW Management Inc., applauded the news on Facebook: “Any progress towards competition among merchandisers is to be appreciated – even if it’s for domestically-produced products. Several years ago, when I questioned why Ontario couldn’t privatize the LCBO, the then Minister of Health said that alcoholic beverages were a crucial health matter which the province had to control. Despite the risk of people (including underage youth) freezing to death during our cold Ontario winters, he did not explain why the sale of crucial winter coats could be entrusted to Sears, the Bay, etc…” While Porter himself posted an analogy to cigarettes: “How about this one. Cigarettes are so dangerous that you cannot advertise them on TV, print, billboards or even display them behind a counter… but they can be sold at any store. Alcohol is so dangerous that it has to be sold at a government store with specially-trained people… but the government itself floods the market with advertising and even publishes a free magazine where 50 per cent of the content is about consuming the product.”
Energy lawyer Ian Blue has joined the Vin de Garde team for the action. I interviewed Blue in 2010 about the IILA, which is now under fire. Here’s what Blue had to say: “The law that gives provincial liquor commissions a monopoly and the power they have, is federal law, the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act; it’s highly arguable that the law is unconstitutional. It’s also pretty apparent to government constitutional lawyers, who are knowledgeable in these matters… [If the Supreme Court of Canada] takes a hard look at the IILA, and if they do an intellectually honest interpretation, the IILA probably cannot stand up to constitutional scrutiny.”
In 2009, lawyer Schwisberg commented to me when speaking about the IILA: “The very underpinning of Canada’s liquor regulatory system is unconstitutional. Isn’t that a mind blower?” Blue said: “There is nothing natural or logical about the existing system. It bullies, fleeces and frustrates wine producers and the public… If the IILA were to fall… wine producers could probably make quantum leaps of progress towards a fairer and more rational system of liquor and wine distribution in Canada.”