Thursday, 9 August 2018

A very Canadian booze revolution

Doug Ford, the brother of the late, great Rob Ford, is now the Premier of Ontario and has set about a populist revolution by cutting the minimum price of beer from $1.25 to $1.00. This represents a near abolition of minimum pricing for beer since it is difficult to manufacture and sell a beer for $1.00, let alone for less than that.

And as if that weren't enough to drive the temperance lobby to despair...

In order to encourage producers to lower their prices, Ford said his government would launch the buck-a-beer challenge, which would offer promotional programs, in-store displays and advertising to those who sell their beer at the minimum price.

There was a time when politicians offered the public cheaper beer in exchange for their vote. Since they fell under the spell of the nanny state lobby, the likes of Nicola Sturgeon seem to think that voters will mistake more expensive alcohol for freedom. Ford is turning back the clock and although the 'buck a beer' pledge hasn't gone down well with some of the breweries, even the BBC admits that his booze reforms are popular with the public.

I'm grateful to my Spectator Health colleague Mathieu Vaillaincourt for sending me this report...

The Canadian province of Ontario was in the British press yesterday, as the recently elected Progressive Conservative government led by Doug Ford (who is the older brother of the late mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford) wants to find ways to lower the price of beer. This was done because of a promise he made in his manifesto during the last election campaign. Since Mr Ford's PC Party won a comfortable majority last June, he has a carte blanche to implement his manifesto as he wishes. The intended goal of this Ford government policy is to return to the era where a can of beer was one dollar. This is far cry from other jurisdictions in the western world who want to put a higher and higher minimum price on alcohol.

This Doug Ford policy is a huge reform in a province known for having very restrictive alcohol laws which are a relic from the prohibition era. Ontario is not Saudi Arabia or Utah, but it's really far more restrictive than what's considered normal in the United Kingdom, France or Belgium.

Before Ford's upcoming reforms, corner stores were unable to sell any kind of beer and wine. Only a few hand-picked supermarkets in a few cities in Ontario were able to sell beer and wine, and only for a couple of years now.

If you want to buy alcohol other than beer or wine in Ontario, you still need to to go to your local LCBO store and if you wanted a beer you were supposed - up until a few years ago - to go to the Beer Store which is a joint-venture between the government of Ontario and a couple of big beer companies. The LCBO looks like your average self-serve liquor store, but the Beer Store is a Soviet relic. It's a very foul, austere and smelly place where you must look through a catalogue and ask the attendant which beer you want which they then get out of the back of the store.

Akin to the United States or Australia, each province in Canada has its own laws regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages. For example, Quebec, because of a gallic influence and because prohibition was always very unpopular in this majority French-speaking province, has had a relatively liberal liquor law for decades now with beer and wine sold at almost every corner store.

But the situation in Canada generally is a far cry from most of Western Europe. Most provinces in Canada have state-owned monopolies who sell and control the trade of alcohol beverages. Only the province of Alberta has completely liberalised the retail selling of booze.

As a proof of what a hot potato the trans-provincial trade of liquor in Canadian politics is, a recent case in the Supreme Court of Canada (called the Comeau case) made it virtually illegal to export a large amount of alcohol between two Canadian provinces.

Just as his cannabis policy more liberal than the Ontario Liberal Party's (he will allow private stores to sell cannabis when it becomes legalised in a couple of months) Doug Ford, who is labelled a populist, is more liberal and less nanny-statist on alcohol than the Ontario Liberal Party itself.

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