January 22, 2015

Rumours of privatization in Ontario’s liquor control monopoly?

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Cancon,Government,Law,Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:57

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

New report calls for Ontario to break up the LCBO

Filed under: Business,Cancon,Economics,Wine — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 13:33

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.

Britain’s railway system under private and public ownership

Filed under: Britain,Economics,Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:13

At the Adam Smith Institute blog, Ben Southwood asks the question “What would we consider a successful railway system?”

Under many measures, the railways have performed remarkably since privatisation. It is not surprising that the British public would nevertheless like to renationalise them, given how ignorant we know they are, but it’s at least slightly surprising that large sections of the intelligentsia seem to agree.

Last year I wrote a very short piece on the issue, pointing out the basic facts: the UK has had two eras of private railways, both extremely successful, and a long period of extremely unsuccessful state control. Franchising probably isn’t the ideal way of running the rail system privately, but it seems like even a relatively bad private system outperforms the state.

British railway passengers 1830-2010

Short history: approximately free market in rail until 1913, built mainly with private capital. Government control/direction during the war. Government decides the railways aren’t making enough profit in 1923 and reorganises them into bigger regional monopolies. These aren’t very successful (in a very difficult macro environment) so it nationalises them — along with everything else — in the late 1940s.

By the 1960s the government runs railways into the ground to the point it essentially needs to destroy or mothball half the network. Government re-privatises the railways in 1995 — at this point passenger journeys have reached half the level they were at in 1913. Within 15 years they’ve made back the ground lost in the previous eighty.

May 29, 2014

The “Pairs Perfectly” campaign

Filed under: Cancon,Wine — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:03

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.)

March 25, 2014

BBC to be (effectively) privatized in proposed new legislation

Filed under: Britain,Law,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 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 @ 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

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 @ 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 @ 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 @ 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 @ 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

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 @ 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 @ 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 @ 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

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