The question of full privatization of alcohol retail sales in Ontario – sell-off of LCBO and ending remaining Beer Store prerogatives – comes round and round in the years: in the beer community, in politics, by union representatives, and by public health advocates.
Currently, there seems no reasonable prospect of such privatization, even as steps have been taken in recent years to extend the retail environment, e.g. the few hundred permitted grocery store outlets for beer and wine, or emergence of “bottle shops” as described in an article in June last year by Kate Bueckert of the CBC.
The current Conservative government in Ontario led by Premier Doug Ford shows no interest in a LCBO sell-off, despite recommendations from various quarters in past years to do just that.
For some background on that issue, the Wikipedia link on LCBO is helpful (“Debate Over Privatization”). See also e.g. David Clement’s article in the Financial Post in May 2021, and a Fraser Institute report some years ago by Mark Milke, reprinted from the Winnipeg Free Press.*
For a contrary view, see this 2012 article by Warren Thomas in the Toronto Star, the longtime public union official.
There are earlier studies arguing for privatization dating back at least to 2005.
Nonetheless I’d like to state my feelings why privatization is logical and would benefit the people on a net basis. From everything I’ve looked at, government revenue could be secured through maintenance of sales taxes, or the mark-up demanded by most Provinces to sell alcohol.
In Alberta, where for some 30 years alcohol retailing has been privatized, the government secures its mark-up on sales, in part by controlling wholesale distribution. But any government has ways to ensure the tax bill is paid.
Any government has ways to enforce safe selling of alcohol, that licensees of stores pass a “safe serve” test for example, this already exists in the bar environment and for permitted grocery sales.
From my checks, some beer sold in Alberta today costs more than in Ontario, some (or of similar type) is about the same, some is less. It does seem the total tax percentage, federal and provincial, is less in Alberta than Ontario, yet, some beer is higher there than here, yes.
The respective markets though are different. Alberta is further west of course, so European imports travel longer to get there: costs more money, a factor affecting other imported alcohol as well, likely.
Alberta has a much smaller population than Ontario, so economies of scale are different. Etc.
Even if beer, or alcohol in general, on average costs more there, that is not a reason imo to support government control of retailing. Government control originally was predicated on reducing abuse of alcohol. How can selling less booze be wrong from a public health standpoint, particular when medical care is under great stress as at present?
Putting it differently, government should not subsidize cheaper alcohol, should it come to that. Let market forces dictate the final prices, although in many cases I think they will be advantageous.
Government mandarins, as beneficent as they are, should not decide what in practical terms ends up on retail shelves – at uniform price throughout Ontario for the same brand. While union jobs are a factor to consider, at the same time why should alcohol retailing benefit from that status, while many other workers do not?
We might as well unionize the full working population, which I’m sure some would support, but our current political arrangements do not sanction.
Consumer choice, as given effect by private retailers and their suppliers, should be the final determinant for what is sold as beverage alcohol. The private stores I’ve shopped at in Florida and New York, say, but also many other states, offer a luxury of choice we don’t see here, between them of course.
Same can occur in UK, and in all these places some retailers specialize, say in the beers of a particular country or region, or style, or market segment (craft) or… however the market decides to handle it.
We do it that way with thousands of consumer products. Beer and other alcohol should not be different.**
*See my additional remarks in the Comment section.
**75% of the American market is serviced by private retailing, see details in the NABCA site.