Quotulatiousness

March 25, 2014

BBC to be (effectively) privatized in proposed new legislation

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:09

British TV viewers are required to pay a regular license fee (which funds the BBC) or they can be prosecuted. The British government may be on the verge of changing this:

Budgets come and go, but something more far-reaching will take place in the House of Commons today; something that might change our political discourse significantly, benignly and permanently.

The Government has indicated that it will back a Bill, brought in by the backbench MP, Andrew Bridgen, to decriminalise non-payment of the Television Licence Fee. Instead of being dragged through the courts, defaulters will simply have their access to the BBC switched off — in the same way that Sky withdraws its services from those who don’t pay their subscriptions.

The practical case for the measure is unarguable. The BBC’s privileged legal position is silting up our criminal justice system. A ridiculous 180,000 people face prosecution every year over non-payment. Under the new regime, they will instead be in the position people who don’t cough up for their gas or electricity bills. A great deal of time and money will be saved.

But the real significance of the proposal is that it will, in practice, remove the BBC’s monopoly. If the penalty for non-payment of the licence fee is withdrawal of the service, rather than prosecution, then that fee ceases to be a tax and becomes a subscription. Refusal to pay is no longer a criminal act, but an exercise of consumer choice. The BBC will become, in practice, a pay-on-demand service like its rivals.

February 12, 2014

The Beer Store’s pre-emptive strike against a competitive market in Ontario

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:22

Yesterday I got a robo-call from someone representing The Beer Store (what used to be known as the Brewer’s Retail … for my American readers, think of your local DMV crossed with a Cold War-era Soviet department store). The call was to alert me to the possibility that the Ontario government might do something to destroy the worker’s paradise we live in today and allow the total anarchy of private sales of beer, wine, and liquor. I was invited to take part in some sort of “town hall” meeting where all the interested parties would be represented … if you consider only those who are afraid of this change being introduced as being all of the interested parties.

As we all know, the Ontario government isn’t comfortable with the idea of letting go of their own vast-profit-generating booze sales machine (the LCBO), and I doubt that the current Premier and her party are actually going to break the foreign-owned oligopoly that currently controls the sale of beer in the province. In spite of that, the Beer Store and their “stakeholders” are mounting a rather hysterical counter-offensive to preserve the current status quo. As Colby Cosh points out, their success or failure will probably hinge on keeping Ontarians innocent of how a non-monopolized market works in other jurisdictions … particularly in Alberta:

It is encouraging to see so much ridicule being flung at the Beer Store’s “study” defending its role in the Soviet-flavoured Ontario liquor retailing system. The effectiveness of the Beer Store’s white paper depends on its Ontario audience knowing no practical details of freer retail schemes, particularly Alberta’s: yet, by an amusing paradox, the ur-source for the report appears to be Alberta. No one was willing to attach his name to the report itself, but it comes with a foreword by the Parkland Institute’s Greg Flanagan, who deems it a “valuable contribution”—one that, on an unrelated note, makes heavy use of Flanagan’s own past polemics against liquor privatization. What a terrible shame nobody took credit for this excellent document!

What Colby is missing is that Ontario is a unique, precious snowflake of a province, whose residents are unable to handle this so-called “freedom of choice”. Our loving government is protecting our vulnerable, weak-willed selves from the evils of a callous, uncaring, exploitative sector of the economy that ruthlessly wants to sell us more of their intoxicating poisons at lower prices. This is why we must stand firm against “free markets” and rally our shrinking moral forces!

He even admits that the destruction of Alberta’s proud, noble, and much-loved liquor monopoly has brought untold misery and ruin to literally tens, possibly even hundreds, of Albertans:

The effect of liquor-retail privatization in Alberta was to put liquor stores in many small towns that did not have them before and on darn near every block in the big cities. Most, by design, are small stores with large markups. Before privatization you had a handful of stores in the entire province, all offering strongly regulated uniform prices. But you might have to travel a long way to get the advantage of these prices; you might have to leave work early to show up before closing, particularly if you intended to load up for a weekend or a party; and you might have to stand in a queue when you arrived. (Ah, memories.) And if you didn’t compute your needs accurately and you ran out of booze at the wrong moment, you were out of luck.

After privatization, there are stores everywhere, open all the time, on every day but Christmas; and you might be charged an extra buck on a 12-pack. Go on: ask 10 Albertans who are old enough to remember the old system if they would like to go back. I’ve actually performed this exercise, and I usually get ten “hell no”s. But if you make your sample a hundred, you will certainly find a person or two in one of two categories: (1) socialists nostalgic for the days when ALCB employees were duly organized, and could shut down all liquor sales in the province by striking; (2) geriatric grouches who really don’t enjoy alcohol and don’t like its ready availability and what’s with those goddamn kids these days with the reefer and the XBox and the hey hey hey.

See? He even admits that prices went up! Proof that market failure is smeared all over Alberta! And queues are a good thing: they allow you to meet your neighbours and have long, pleasant conversations about all kinds of things! Albertans have been wantonly deprived of this wonderful balm of human contact and interaction!

No, Ontarians are not ready — and may never be ready — for the additional burden of free choice and wider selections at lower prices. We must set our hearts and minds to work against this tradition-destroying innovation and keep our booze prices high and variety minimal!

September 26, 2013

Crony Capitalism and prison privatization

Filed under: Government, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:59

I’m generally in favour of moving economic activities out of the government sphere and into the competitive marketplace, but the privatization of prisons is a great example not of free enterprise but of crony capitalism run amok:

Private prisons are antithetical to a free people. Of all the functions a civilized society should relegate to the public sector, it’s abundantly clear incarceration should be at the very top of the list. Jailing individuals is a public cost that a society takes on in order to ensure there are consequences to breaking certain rules that have been deemed dangerous to the happiness and quality of life within a given population. However, the end goal of any civilized culture must be to try to keep these cost as low possible. This should be achieved by having as few people as possible incarcerated, which is most optimally achieved by reducing incidents of criminality within the population. Given incarceration is an undesirable (albeit necessary) part of any society, the idea is certainly not to incentivize increased incarceration by making it extremely profitable. This is a perverse incentive, and one that is strongly encouraged by the private prison industry to the detriment of society.

[...]

In the Public Interest describes itself as:

    A comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting. It is committed to equipping citizens, public officials, advocacy groups, and researchers with the information, ideas, and other resources they need to ensure that public contracts with private entities are transparent, fair, well-managed, and effectively monitored, and that those contracts meet the long-term needs of communities.

Their report explains how private prison companies insist that states embed “occupancy guarantees” into their contracts with the public sector. They estimate that at least 65% of all private prison contracts have such guarantees, and in some states, like Arizona, the guarantee is a shockingly high 100%. This leads to overcrowding in many instances, and sometimes violent offenders are placed in prisons set up for nonviolent offenses just to fill the quotas. In the event that the beds can’t be filled, the taxpayer makes up the difference to the private prison company. They win no matter what. It’s just more crony capitalism. Below are some highlights from this excellent report.

Major Findings

  • 65 percent of the private prison contracts ITPI received and analyzed included occupancy guarantees in the form of quotas or required payments for empty prison cells (a “low-crime tax”). These quotas and low-crime taxes put taxpayers on the hook for guaranteeing profits for private prison corporations.
  • Occupancy guarantee clauses in private prison contracts range between 80% and 100%, with 90% as the most frequent occupancy guarantee requirement.
  • Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Virginia are locked in contracts with the highest occupancy guarantee requirements, with all quotas requiring between 95% and 100% occupancy.

Update: On the topic of prison abuse, there’s an interesting post at Reason talking about the hidden-yet-pervasive practice of locking up children in solitary confinement “for their own protection”:

Solitary confinement was once a punishment reserved for the most-hardened, incorrigible criminals. Today, it is standard practice for tens of thousands of juveniles in prisons and jails across America. Far from being limited to the most violent offenders, solitary confinement is now used against perpetrators of minor crimes and children who are forced to await their trials in total isolation. Often, these stays are prolonged, lasting months or even years at a time.

Widely condemned as cruel and unusual punishment, long-term isolation for juveniles continues because it’s effectively hidden from the public. Research efforts by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition have struggled to uncover even the most basic facts about how the United States punishes its most vulnerable inmates.

How can a practice be both widespread and hidden? State and federal governments have two effective ways to prevent the public from knowing how deep the problem goes.

The first has to do with the way prisons operate. Sealed off from most public scrutiny, and steeped in an insular culture of unaccountability, prisons are, by their very nature, excellent places to keep secrets. Even more concealed are the solitary-confinement cells, described by inmates as “prisons within prisons.” With loose record-keeping and different standards used by different states, it’s almost impossible to gather reliable nation-wide statistics.

The second method is to give the old, horrific punishment a new, unobjectionable name. Make the torture sound friendly, with fewer syllables and pleasant language. This way, even when abuse is discovered, it appears well-intentioned and humane.

So American prisons rarely punish children with prolonged solitary confinement. Instead, they administer seclusion and protective custody. Prison authorities don’t have to admit that “administrative segregation” is used to discipline children. Just the opposite, actually. It’s all being done “for their own protection.”

September 11, 2013

L.Neil Smith responds to Allison Benedikt’s “manifesto”

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:03

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith calls for “Public schools delenda est” in response to Benedikt’s paean to the glories of government-run schools:

Which brings us to the subject of today’s diatribe, an article I was directed to (hat-tip to Tatiana Covington) on Slate.com, awkwardly entitled, “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person — A Manifesto”. This unintelligent but very revealing piece, posted Thursday, August 29, 2013, was written by somebody called Allison Benedikt, who slings a keyboard like some breathless high school cheerleader, but is apparently a movie critic for the Chicago Tribune.

As Joe-Bob would say, check it out.

What this little death-dealer proposes — “demands” would be more accurate — is that all private schools be outlawed (whoops there go the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments) and everybody forced to send their children to, and participate in the public school system. (Later in the essay she denies wanting to outlaw private schools, but, as we all know, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.)

This is, given the unignorable temper and tendency of our times, exactly like seeing the private structure of the Internet demolished, and then being compelled at bayonet-point (Why is it that liberals never seem to remember that the law, no matter how noble it may sound or high-minded its intentions, consists of nothing but brute force: guns, clubs, noxious sprays, and tasers?) to go back to the United States Postal System or the good old mercantilist Bell Telephone monopoly.

“Progressives”? I call them regressives.

What’s more, she issues this bizarre edict — which she labels a “manifesto” — not for the sake of your children, nor even for their children down the road. In words straight from an Ayn Rand villain’s mouth (what critic says real people don’t talk like this?), she says this: “Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good.”

Yes, she openly admits that your progeny will probably suffer, educationally (and no doubt otherwise — look at the extracurricular activities she admits to), as a result of being forced back into the public system as it exists and operates today. she waxes positively lyrical over the egalitarian ecstasy of attending school with individuals more likely to knife somebody for a pair of shoes than she is.

She keeps congratulating herself on how well she turned out, even as she almost brags at how badly educated she is — and demonstrates it with her writing. Would she brag if she knew she’s an enabler of democide?

May 9, 2013

Let ‘em strike!

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:00

We’re in the final week before the LCBO is threatening a strike. Michael Pinkus suggests we should let ‘em walk:

For the third time in a decade the LCBO is holding Ontario hostage — and just like they did in 2005 and 2009 when the threat of a strike was on the table, they’ll be an 11th hour (more like on the 11th hour and 59 minute mark) resolution where the LCBO employees get everything they want because the province does not want to lose the revenue the LCBO brings into the province. Screw the teachers, they take money out of the system, but the LCBO brings it in, so they should get whatever they ask for, right? It’s the approach taken by every government who has “stared down” the LCBO, and lost. Not that I’m necessarily for the teachers, but if it’s a choice between educating our youth or feeding our appetite for liquor I know which side I fall on … and so would any right minded Ontarian — it’s the booze that wins out every time.

And just like in 2005 and 2009 the LCBO will make a ton of money in the days before the “strike”. It’ll be a feeding frenzy of mammoth proportions in the aisles, right up to the last hour. Shelves will be decimated as people stock up for what surely will be touted as long, drawn out labour strife … that’ll never come. And why do I say that? Because any right thinking Ontarian knows that if the LCBO goes on strike it means more than loss of revenue to the province, or an inability to get out of country booze … it means the end of the LCBO (and everyone involved knows that).

Take a peak around us privatization is today’s buzz-word and it’s all around us. In our own country, to the south, in Europe — at corner stores, in supermarkets and in specialty stores … heck even Pennsylvania is getting into the act of loosening their liquor laws (and nobody thought that day would come) — but not here in NO-FUN-Tario, a have not province … we sit under the rules and thumb of the Liquor Control Board. If they go on strike questions will be raised as to why we have a provincially run system, why we support unionized workers, or why we can’t be more liberal with our booze (plus you just know some idiot will want to declare it an essential service). So it does not behoove the LCBO to walk off the job and the government won’t allow it because they’ll be tough questions to answer. So don’t go betting the farm on a labour dispute and seeing picket sign toting employees at the local Board store — this one will end like all the others, with the LCBO threatening to walk out, a mass throng of buyers the day before, and the sun rising to a new dawn the next day with a new deal for LCBO employees … and all will be right in Ontario for another 4 years … when we’ll do it all again.

Update: A report in the Toronto Star claims that Ontario could earn a $1 billion windfall by allowing private liquor stores into the province:

“If the Ontario liquor industry mirrored ours in B.C., instead of $1.6 billion going to government, that number could be around $2.7 billion,” he states in his 15-page speech, which highlights the pluses for locally produced wines, beers and spirits.

With 635 stores and 219 convenience store locations in rural and northern Ontario, the LCBO last year reported net sales of $4.71 billion — up $218 million — and handed over to the Ontario treasury an all-time high of $1.63 billion, not including taxes.

“If Ontario allowed private liquor stores, consumers would have access to hundreds of new VQA wines, craft beers and spirits.”

His comments come at a time when the LCBO plans to spend $100 million on expansion, including express outlets in 10 large grocery stores and expanded VQA sales, and while Tory Leader Tim Hudak calls for the booze monopoly to be privatized and for beer and wine to be sold in corner stores.

“A bit of competition makes the world go round . . . I think now that we are (in) 2013 it’s time for some change,” Hudak told reporters at Queen’s Park.

B.C. has had a mix of private and public liquor stores “to create better choices for producers to sell and for consumers to buy,” Baillie said.

Ontario currently does allow a tiny number of private wine stores to operate, but under incredibly restrictive conditions. For one thing, they’re only allowed to be located in areas the LCBO has determined are “underserved”, they may only sell wine from a single winery or winery group, and the number of stores is limited to the licenses that were granted to certain wineries before 1993.

Oh, and the kicker to all those restriction? If you manage to put in a store in an “underserved” area and make a profit? The LCBO can then turn around and re-designate your area to invalidate your license or place one of their own stores in the area and take away the business you’ve built up. Catch-22.

April 16, 2013

The anti-libertarian legacy of Margaret Thatcher

Filed under: Britain, Government, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:31

Sean Gabb explains why Thatcher should not be considered in any way “libertarian”:

She started the transformation of this country into a politically correct police state. Her Government behaved with an almost gloating disregard for constitutional norms. She brought in money laundering laws that have now been extended to a general supervision over our financial dealings. She relaxed the conditions for searches and seizure by the police. She increased the numbers and powers of the police. She weakened trial by jury. She weakened the due process protections of the accused. She gave executive agencies the power to fine and punish without due process. She began the first steps towards total criminalisation of gun possession.

She did not cut government spending. Instead, she allowed the conversion of local government and the lower administration into a system of sinecures for the Enemy Class. She allowed political correctness to take hold in local government. When she did oppose this, it involved giving central government powers of supervision and control useful to a future politically correct government. She extended and tightened the laws constraining free speech about race and immigration.

Her encouragement of enterprise never amounted to more than a liking for big business corporatism. Genuine enterprise was progressively heaped with taxes and regulations that made it hard to do business. Big business, on the other hand, was showered with praise and legal indulgences. Indeed, her privatisation policies were less about introducing competition and choice into public services than in turning public monopolies into corporate monsters pampered by the State with subsidies and favourable regulations — corporate monsters that were expected in return to lavish financial rewards on the political class.

April 11, 2013

Ontario’s LCBO workers vote in favour of a strike

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Government — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:50

Michael Pinkus is looking forward to a potential LCBO strike:

Call me an anarchist but I want the LCBO to go on a nice, big, long strike. And by the time you read this newsletter I am 100% sure that the sheeple of the LCBO will have given their bargaining team the go ahead for strike action. Now the LCBO’s contract was up on March 31, 2013 — which means currently the guys and gals roaming, stocking and generally keeping track of the aisles are without a legal contract with the provincial liquor board. I’m not about to get into the nitty-gritty of the contract negotiations, but when I read in the Liquor Board Employees Division (LBED) Bargaining Bulletin: “The offer we received from management can only be described in one word: Outrageous!” — well I just felt that I had to look a little deeper to see how the LCBO was screwing their own people (which is a nice change from the people of Ontario they screw daily).

What outrage would I find on the pages of the LCBO’s proposal? Are they locking the doors and throwing employees out on their ears? Are they proposing actual punishment for selling to minors (like the sting David Menzies did in July of 2012)? Will there be repercussions for doing a bad job, breaking the law, real penalties?

Now I have met, had dealings with, and actually, once upon a time, worked alongside some very good LCBO employees, most of them casual part-timers — but I can tell you that for every one good one there’s two that are lazy, surly and just generally people you don’t want to deal with in a retail situation — and sadly, those are the one’s you are likely to remember. So from the LBED Bargain Bulletin dated March 1, 2013 here are 2 of the 9 crazy demands the LCBO is making of their employees and the Union’s response to those “outrageous” proposals (I highlight my favs, but you can read the full bulletin here):

[. . .]

But who really suffers from an LCBO strike? California, Spain, Italy, France, Australia, Chile, in other words import wines and liquor producers, who can ONLY sell through the Province run monopoly, and they’ll be demanding the LCBO settle so their products get into the hands of Ontarians instead of sitting idly in warehouses collecting dust. Meanwhile local producers could see a boon as Ontarians thirst for wine is not met by the LCBO but instead by in-province wineries. Tourism to wine producing areas should also see an uptick; instead of visiting Grandma on a Saturday afternoon the family would pile into the car (with Grandma) to tour the highways and bi-ways of Ontario wine country. A long LCBO walk could mean that Ontarians finally get the taste for their homegrown wines en masse and will then demand greater access — one weekend away is quaint, but having to make the trek each and every weekend may prove too much. And with that kind of demand we could see movement in this province towards a freer market system with independent and corner wine stores. Maybe the government will get tired of having to pay all those wages, negotiating with an inflexible union and decide to sell off the LCBO — preferring instead to reap the rewards from taxes instead of paying the price of labour unrest … sigh, wouldn’t that be nice?!? As for the employees, the good ones will have no trouble finding a job in the public sector [I think Michael means private sector here], many in the same kind of newly created positions. The others? Well they’ll just go back to ditch digging where they belonged in the first place.

April 10, 2013

In British political circles, the term “Thatcherism” conceals at least as much as it reveals

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Government, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

In sp!ked, Tim Black explains why the term “Thatcherism” is not actually a useful descriptor of Margaret Thatcher’s political ideology, but it helps hide the weaknesses of her political and ideological foes:

… for many of those who today preen themselves as left-wing, the idea of Thatcher is arguably even more important. And that’s because she can be blamed for everything that is wrong today. She may have left office nearly a quarter of a century ago, but so potent was the ideology she apparently promulgated — Thatcherism — that we as a nation continue to be in thrall to it. As one prominent left-wing columnist stated yesterday: ‘Thatcherism lives on. Nothing to celebrate.’ Ex-London mayor ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone agreed: ‘In actual fact, every real problem we face today is the legacy of the fact she was fundamentally wrong.’

Elsewhere, Johnathan Freedland at the liberalish-leftish Guardian joined the Thatcherism Lives chorus: ‘The country we live in remains Thatcher’s Britain. We still live in the land Margaret built.’ At the much-reported-upon, little-attended street parties in Brixton and Glasgow, staged in ironic honour of Thatcher’s passing, the belief that her ideas still walk among us was palpable. In the words of one 28-year-old student: ‘It is important to remember that Thatcherism isn’t dead and it is important that people get out on the street and not allow the government to whitewash what she did.’

[. . .]

And here is where reality stops and myth begins. Because that’s not what the left saw. They saw something more ideological than brutally pragmatic. They saw, in the words of Marxism Today editor Martin Jacques in 1985, ‘a novel and exceptional force’. They saw, in short, Thatcherism.

Given the fact that Thatcher herself never had an actual ideological project to which ‘Thatcherism’ might actually refer, it is unsurprising that a recent book on the subject admitted that ‘talk of “Thatcherism” obscures as much as it reveals’. Instead, the idea of Thatcherism always revealed far more about the left than it did about some perpetually elusive right-wing ideology. That is why the concept, first used by academic Stuart Hall in 1979, gained intellectual traction on the left in 1983, the year Labour, under the leadership of Michael Foot, suffered a devastating defeat at the General Election: it shifted the responsibility for failure from the Labour Party, and its complicity with so-called Thatcherite economics, to the working class, a social constituency supposedly seduced away from the Labour Party by Thatcher’s advocacy of social mobility and aspiration. The idea of ‘Thatcherism’ let Labour off the hook.

So the legacy of Thatcherism may indeed live on, as some sunk on the left insist. But not because of anything Thatcher herself did. It will live on because too many are more comfortable attacking a phantasm from the past than reckoning with political reality today.

February 18, 2013

Chelyabinsk meteor provides impetus for enhanced detection network

Filed under: Space — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:11

Along with all the jokes about the meteor that streaked over Siberia last week, there has been some useful re-orientation of thought about the demonstrated need for better detection tools:

For decades, scientists have been on the lookout for killer objects from outer space that could devastate the planet. But warnings that they lacked the tools to detect the most serious threats were largely ignored, even as skeptics mocked the worriers as Chicken Littles.

No more. The meteor that rattled Siberia on Friday, injuring hundreds of people and traumatizing thousands, has suddenly brought new life to efforts to deploy adequate detection tools, in particular a space telescope that would scan the solar system for dangers.

A group of young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who helped build thriving companies like eBay, Google and Facebook has already put millions of dollars into the effort and saw Friday’s shock wave as a turning point in raising hundreds of millions more.

“Wouldn’t it be silly if we got wiped out because we weren’t looking?” said Edward Lu, a former NASA astronaut and Google executive who leads the detection effort. “This is a wake-up call from space. We’ve got to pay attention to what’s out there.”

Astronomers know of no asteroids or comets that pose a major threat to the planet. But NASA estimates that fewer than 10 percent of the big dangers have been discovered.

January 24, 2013

The LCBO’s tentative, faltering steps to allowing wider sales of wine

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:39

In the latest Ontario Wine Review, Michael Pinkus pours scorn on the LCBO’s latest attempt to fend off an actual competitive market:

The LCBO is about money and profits — and about control. I know I will have people freaking out at me for saying this but I want you to ask yourself “why?” Why would the LCBO suddenly decide that grocery stores are the place to put locations? Doesn’t sound all that smart to me — and not what we asked for. We asked for the right to pick up booze and bread in the same place — the government has said fine but you’ll still have to visit two cashiers and wait in line. Heck, I could have gone across to the mall parking lot to the LCBO location, got a bigger selection than in that tiny kiosk they’ll most likely rent and I still would have had to stand in line at a different cashier — where’s the convenience?

Plus we already have Wine Rack and Wine Shoppe locations in grocery stores … and therein lies the rub (as Shakespeare would say). The LCBO already knows those stores are profitable, the “pilot project” is done, there’s no study needed, Vincor and Peller have already done the research (and if you don’t think the LCBO has had a look at those numbers you’ve got another surprise coming) — this is just another way for the LCBO to compete with those two companies — and by extension, the wineries of Ontario. [Ed. Note: just in case you don’t know Peller and Vincor hold the majority of private liquor store licenses in the province — something they acquired before 1988 when free trade came in].

“… and will also create new VQA boutiques for Ontario wines inside five of its own stores.” A novel idea? I don’t think so. They have one in St. Catharines already (of all places), and what do you want to bet the LCBO will place these new “boutiques” where they are most needed like Niagara, Prince Edward County and Windsor where wineries already exist — no better way to compete with your competition than on their own turf.

November 29, 2012

QotD: Transforming Ontario’s wine market

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Quotations, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:33

A major transition is never easy, but it would be worth it. The strategy we recommend would lead to more government revenue for health care and education; a sustained commitment to the socially responsible use of alcohol; increased economic growth based on greater access to markets; a renewed emphasis on responsible environmental practices; and wider choice, more convenience and competitive prices for consumers.

The present beverage alcohol system took shape at the end of Prohibition. For decades, Ontario has made minor repairs to the system when a complete overhaul was needed. In our view the government should focus its role on effective regulation, and restructure the system from top to bottom to establish a more competitive model.

After 78 years, change is long overdue. It is time to transform Ontario’s beverage alcohol system for the 21st century.

“Part IV. Conclusion: Towards a Competitive System”, A Report of the Beverage Alcohol System Review Panel July, 2005

November 28, 2012

Is Ontario finally “grown up enough” for private wine stores?

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Law, Wine — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:38

In the National Post, David Lawrason talks about the push for changes to Ontario’s Prohibition-era laws regarding the sale of wine in private stores:

The Wine Council of Ontario has flipped the switch on a website called www.mywineshop.ca that allows citizens to create their own virtual wine shop. It is a very bold and clever marketing/lobbying idea. And it is the first time an industry association has initiated a public campaign aimed at creating private wine stores in the province. Gutsy stuff.

In less than a week it has painted an appetite-whetting tapestry of what privatization might look like in Ontario, complete with store themes, stock selections and locations across the province as designed by its citizens. And it is giving the public a very direct way to lobby their local MPPs for change.

One of the big reasons the Ontario wineries and wine writers fear pushing too hard for this modernization and liberalization of our drinking law is that the KGBO LCBO has a long history of retribution against dissenters:

The other theme is fear of LCBO retribution. (Talk about “the elephant in the room”). Even our braveheart John Szabo remarked at the end of his piece that “I hope I don’t get put on an (LCBO) interdiction list for writing this”. An importing agent replying to John’s article said he really wanted to talk about the issue ‘off the record’ as he was concerned that being put on an interdiction list would put him out of business.

This fear of the LCBO, whether justified or not, is another compelling reason to re-think the government monopoly. The fear shouldn’t exist within an otherwise free and democratic society; but it does. I have been writing on wine for over 25 years and during that time I have been involved in thousands of conversations with wineries, importers and consumers on shortcomings of the current system. Only once did an individual agree to be quoted.

When your livelihood depends on access to a product controlled by a monopoly, you dare not get on the wrong side of the powers-that-be controlling that monopoly. They may not break legs or leave horse’s heads in the beds of critics, but they can directly freeze the critics out of their profession. An excellent way to limit dissent. Just the hinted threat can be enough to make a would-be critic decide to toe the line and shut the hell up.

August 9, 2012

Individual property rights for First Nations people

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:32

Canada’s treatment of First Nations people has been a disgrace for decades. After locating them (for the most part) on out-of-the-way reserves, they are mostly forgotten by the media and the politicians until something truly awful happens (like the situation on the Attawapiskat reserve) and then TV crews are dispatched, speeches are made and … usually the amnesia kicks in and all is forgotten.

In the National Post, Tasha Kheiriddin suggests that the time is finally ripe to address one of the root causes of poverty among First Nations people on Canadian reserves: their inability to own property. Band councils hold the land “in trust” for their people, which means there are lots of opportunities for those close to the band council to benefit from the administration of the shared resources. Not all bands suffer from this kind of corruption, but many do. Allocating the land to private ownership by individuals would have many beneficial effects:

This week, the federal government confirmed that it is working on legislation to allow the ownership of private property on First Nations reserves. Some aboriginal leaders, such as former chief Manny Jules, who heads the First Nations Tax Commission, applauded the move. But others see ulterior, sinister motivations at work, as Dr. Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaw professor in the Indigenous Studies department at Ryerson University in Toronto, told Postmedia News’ Teresa Smith. “The quickest way to get that Enbridge pipeline through our territory would be to divide up those lands into individual parcels because it would be a lot quicker to pick off individuals — especially the impoverished ones. And then, if one neighbour sees that an individual gets $100,000 for his property, then what’s someone else, a single mom, with three kids, living on welfare gonna do?”

It’s easy to imagine situations on reserves that are currently governed by band councils that are less than scrupulous where the best land will somehow end up in the hands of the very people who currently benefit from the council’s favour. That is certainly one of the challenges that any such legislation will have to attempt to curtail (even assuming they can get enough support from existing First Nations representatives and groups to move forward with any privatization laws at all).

There is also no doubt that granting First Nations people full property rights – the right to buy, sell, mortgage, use and develop land – is a worthy cause. It would create an ownership culture, instead of the current system (in which reserve land is owned by the federal government, in trust for its Indian residents), which fosters dependency. It would free individual aboriginals from the too-often self-serving grip of band councils. At the same time, it would create responsible government, should those bands seek to tax property, by making them accountable to the property taxpayers they would then serve.

August 8, 2012

“In the real world, cleaning a driveway costs $15. In politics, it costs $175,000″

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:17

In the National Post, Kelly McParland on the difference between real world costs and government costs:

In other words, the town is prevented by bureaucratic realities from doing the job at a reasonable price. A contractor can just show up with a snow blower and clear the drive. The town, however, would have to send two workers – one to run the plow and the other to stand around and watch act as a flagperson. They’d have to be paid the going rate of $47 an hour, plus benefits. And there’s the cost of the plow.

If Mr. Williams was to get his windrows cleared, everyone in Iroquois Falls would have to have their windrows cleared, which the town estimates would bump the price to about $175,000 a winter.

So, in the real world, cleaning a driveway costs $15. In politics, it costs $175,000.

That’s why we have deficits, dear readers. And why government costs so much. And why civil servants grow accustomed to treating ludicrous costs as normal expenditures. And why taxes are far higher than they need be.

August 6, 2012

India’s blackouts are a sign that reform is desperately needed

Filed under: Economics, India — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:20

The Economist on the massive blackouts in India recently:

FOR an aspiring economic superpower, there can be few more chastening events than electricity cuts as massive as those that struck northern and eastern India this week. An area (including the capital, Delhi) in which more than 600m people live faced blackouts over two days. Infrastructure, from traffic lights to trains, stopped working. Hospitals, sanitation plants and offices ground to a halt. Airports and factories had to rely on backup generators, often fuelled by truckloads of diesel.

The impact on India’s economy goes far beyond lost output. The blackout will badly damage the country’s reputation, and highlights the rotten infrastructure that is hobbling its efforts to catch up with China.

[. . .]

At one end, not enough cheap coal is being dug up and gasfields are sputtering. At the other, the national transmission grid needs investment. Meanwhile the “last mile” distribution companies, largely state-owned, that buy power and deliver it to homes and firms, are financial zombies. Much of their power is pinched or given away free. Local politicians put pressure on them to keep tariffs low, which leads to huge losses. Squeezed between a shortage of fuel and end-customers who are nearly bust, those private generating firms are now cutting back on vital long-term investment in new plants.

[. . .]

The solution is to cut graft, tackle vested interests and allow markets to work better. The coal monopoly needs to be broken up and local distribution firms privatised. Yet despite the looming crisis, for a decade the government has shirked doing what is clearly necessary, just as it has failed to implement key tax reforms, cut public borrowing or open the retail sector to competition. It has allowed corruption and red tape to damage other vital industries, such as telecoms.

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