Alcohol

Ontario's Glacial Booze Reforms Aren't Enough

It's hard to undo decades of bad policy with a single bill

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In Canada, a new Ontario provincial budget released last week proposes to loosen alcohol consumption rules in the province, including allowing licensed establishments to start serving alcohol at 9 a.m., legalizing tailgating, letting local governments set rules that would allow people to consume alcohol in public parks, and letting breweries, wineries, and distilleries serve more than mere samples. Other proposed changes include plans to allow convenience stores to sell beer and wine, legalizing happy hour advertisements, and postponing a new wine tax that was set to take effect this month.

The proposals come after the provincial government recently sought public comment on its plans to "moderniz[e] the rules for the sale and consumption of alcohol in Ontario."

"The cornerstone of putting people first is consumer choice and convenience," Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said of the plans. "This is why our government is taking steps to modernize the way we sell, distribute and consume alcohol in Ontario."

Three things appear to be true of Ontario's alcohol laws. First, they're in great need of reform. Second, people such as Fedeli are talking openly about the need for changes. Third, the first and second points above are true largely due to decades of inadequate half-measures masquerading as real reform.

A 1997 article by the Mackenzie Institute, a Canadian think tank, lists a host of inane provincial booze laws throughout recent history, including that, "until about 1970, Ontario's bars were required to have a separate Ladies entrance and a room where escorted gentlewomen might enjoy a beverage with a respectable male companion." More recently, in 2011, it was a pretty big deal when Ontario alcohol deregulation measures allowed licensed establishments to give you a free drink on your birthday. Yay.

The elephant in the room is Ontario's liquor control board, known as the LCBO, which has long been reviled both as the heart of the province's booze-law problem and a powerful obstacle to reform.

Much of the hatred toward the LCBO comes from the "quasi-monopoly" it enjoys over alcohol sales. Another facet of the LCBO that Ontarians detest is the strong LCBO union that uses its power to head off competition from private sellers.

"Our prohibition-era alcohol system is not about protecting drinkers or maximizing revenues for the government," wrote Candice Malcolm, of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, in a 2014 piece in the Toronto Sun. "It is about power and control, particularly for government-sector unions."

Ontario's awful alcohol rules have consequences. Toronto is the province's—and Canada's—largest and most international city. But Toronto is also derided as boring. And when someone paints Toronto as un-fun, bad booze laws usually get the blame.

"To be fair, much of Toronto's lameness comes from the fact the city happens to be located in Ontario," wrote Benjamin Boles at blogTO in a great 2014 post that details the city's and province's rich history of terrible alcohol laws, including temperance laws that stayed on the books in Toronto into at least the late 1990s. "The province's liquor laws are legendarily strict and often bizarre."

But Ontario's bad alcohol laws don't exist in a vacuum. To be clear, Canada has some pretty rotten alcohol laws in force around the country.

Those that restrict the movement of alcohol across provincial borders are some of the worst. Unfortunately, the country's Supreme Court chose to uphold those laws last year.

The national government has also seen fit to adopt new and highly intrusive and draconian steps to combat drunk driving.

One such measure, which took effect nationwide in December, gives police the terrifying "power to demand a breath sample at the roadside, without reasonable grounds." Critics have assailed the measure as a frontal assault on civil liberties.

"The country has been tending towards a police state for some time," columnist Arthur Weinreb wrote last year. "Nowhere are the losses of individual rights accepted by so many people as when these rights are taken away in order to combat drinking and driving." Weinreb reveals that a police officer used the law to pull over a 70-year-old man who'd dropped off a variety of empty beer cans and the like at a recycling center.

Yet a police spokesman said officers would use to law to target "cars leaving licensed establishments or leaving the downtown," the Guelph Mercury Tribune reports.

"The officer told him the three cases of empties were a lot, he was obviously a drinker and he was then asked when he last had a drink," Weinreb writes. "[The man] said he last drank around midnight the day before." The police officer then demanded the elderly man take a breathalyzer test.

While the national government has made the country's booze laws fodder for columnists, the prospects for disentangling the Ontario government from alcohol sales appear largely to be a welcome development among the same crowd.

"I strongly dislike [center-right Ontario Premier Doug] Ford and pretty much everything he's done, both in and out of office, but I'm simply not hyperpartisan enough to argue that his booze proposals are inherently bad ideas," writes columnist Emma Teitel. "They're not. Ford is a crappy leader—the kind who values populist gobbledygook over research and whose education minister believes neglect promotes resilience—but even crappy leaders have decent ideas sometimes."

Consider me a fan, then, of good ideas from crappy leaders.

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  1. Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to sound plausible.

    That’s some funny shit — separate Ladies’ entrance, can’t stand up with a drink in your hand, $16 tax on $3 of booze. Good grief, and I thought politicians were unimaginative! Well, they are about black markets, as if they had blinders on there.

    1. It wasn’t just a “Ladies” entrance, it was a “Ladies and Escorts” entrance; a “room where escorted gentlewomen might enjoy a beverage with a respectable male companion“. Women drinking alone were assumed to be available for making themselves available for immoral purposes, either for pay or for free. In other words forget about the night out “with the girls, only sluts or whores would want to drink alone or in groups.

      1. “Women drinking alone were assumed to be available ”

        Were? A lot of people, not necessarily Ontarians either, assume this to be true even today.

        1. True, but noone is passing blue laws to protect them from themselves or men from their corrupting influence.

          Also none today believes that the only women who drink in bars are prostitutes plying their trade. This was the primary rationale for this law and was still being advanced as the principle argument against relaxing it in the early 1970s.

          1. “Also none today believes that the only women who drink in bars are prostitutes plying their trade. “

            I do.

    2. “That’s some funny shit —”

      Motorcycle helmets must be checked behind the bar in Ontario, I believe. These laws and others are due largely to a Tory temperance crusader who was Premier during the 40s and 50s. The LCBO used to be celebrated as the world’s largest liquor monopoly outside the USSR. It’s probably the world’s biggest now.

      1. My ex-wife’s father once showed me his LCBO “ration” book from the late 20s. It allowed him to buy a fifth of spirits a month. I guess the authorities thought if they allowed him any more he’d be out being corrupted by “ladies of the night”.

        While Canada never enacted prhibition nationally All of the provinces enacted it from the mid teens until the mid twenties except for Quebec which passed and lifted prohibition in the same year (1919) and Prince Edward Island which was dry from 1901 til 1948.

        Ontario’s temperance laws replaced prohibition in 1924 and thus predate the “40s and 50s”. Also, Tories (conservatives) given their ties to the “upper classes” and the Anglican Church and their concern to maintain strong imperial ties and a strong monarchy were never that big on prohibition or its little brother “temperance”. The “demon rum” was rather associated with the nonconformist protestant sects (Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers and the like) who were far more likely to be Grits (Liberals) or Socialists.

  2. “”They’re not. Ford is a crappy leader—the kind who values populist gobbledygook”

    Ford is no Trump. A good his support among communities of recent immigrants from places like the Caribbean and the Indian sub continent is strong.

    1. It is useful to remember that “recent immigrants from places like the Caribbean and the Indian sub continent” to Canada have been selected due to their matching a template for holding beliefs and ideas that match the governments concept of “Canadian values”.

      In other words, they are “colored people” who think like “white people”.

      The somewhat interesting thing about these “recent immigrants from places like the Caribbean and the Indian sub continent” is that they are more entrepreneurial and self reliant than the traditional immigrants from the British Isles that Canada formerly gave preference too.

      Australia had a similar experience when they abolished the “White Australia Policy”. They pretty much found that people who wanted to leave the British Isles were self entitled poorly educated “welfare bludgers” while applicants from India and China were self motivated and highly trained skilled workers and professionals. 🙂

      1. “In other words, they are “colored people” who think like “white people”.

        I think these coloured people are smarter than you’re willing to credit them. They only pretend to think like white people to fool the officials. Deep down they still think like coloured people.

  3. God bless Ford.

    Let’s bring Bernier in too,

    Let’s get Canada rolling again.

    1. “Let’s get Canada rolling again.”

      Make Toronto Orange Again!

      1. Before I met my ex-wife she had a Catholic boyfriend. Mid-sixties, this is.

        In those mid-sixties the Orange Day parade (held on 12 July) was a big deal in downtown Toronto and said boyfriend was exceedingly upset about all the streets being blocked so they could get to the ferry docks to spend an afternoon at “On the Island” and thus got an education about Irish political squabbles being imported into Canada.

        It was traditional at the time for the Mayor of Toronto to serve as the Grand Marshal of the Toronto Orange Parade. When, in the late 1960s an Italian Catholic, Joe Piccininni, ran for Mayor the joke went around about a Catholic leading a bunch of Orangemen around the streets of TO.

  4. Toronto is boring?

    It is in Canada.

  5. “Ford is a crappy leader—the kind who values populist gobbledygook over research and whose education minister believes neglect promotes resilience—but even crappy leaders have decent ideas sometimes.” Where else have we heard that recently?

  6. Glacial booze? Do they mean Coors Light?

  7. I spend a week every year fishing in Ontario. You can bring a case of beer, bottle of booze, or bottle of wine across the border tax free. If you would wish to buy a 12 pack from the state run beer store, that will be about $20. Some is the strict laws on alcohol, some is the universal health tax. The Indians or Native Canadians, or First Nation, or indigenous peoples, as it keeps changing to be politically correct have probably suffered the most under these laws, which have produced generations of alcoholics.

  8. […] is from Baylen Linnekin, “Ontario’s Glacial Booze Reforms Aren’t Enough,” Reason, April […]

  9. […] is from Baylen Linnekin, “Ontario’s Glacial Booze Reforms Aren’t Enough,” Reason, April […]

  10. […] is from Baylen Linnekin, “Ontario’s Glacial Booze Reforms Aren’t Enough,” Reason, April […]

  11. […] is from Baylen Linnekin, “Ontario’s Glacial Booze Reforms Aren’t Enough,” Reason, April […]

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