Listening to Ontario’s (PINO) Conservative leader, Tim Hudak, talk to Matt Galloway this morning on the CBC, I was struck by a certain sense of grim fascination along with a shared growing frustration the Metro Morning host displayed with his guest’s non-answer answers.
We’ve heard it all before, the conservative prescription for economic prosperity. Attack the public sector. Sell off any and all government assets not nailed down. Lower taxes. Always lower taxes.
We’ve been hearing it for over 30 years now. It varies little. Different actors spouting the same lines.
Rein in spending. Balance the books. Pay down the debt.
Never is there talk of the need for revenue outside of growing the economy, growing the tax base. For conservatives, the government should not be in the business of increasing revenue. A fiver in the taxpayers’ pockets is always without exception better spent than by the government. This is an article of faith that needs no evidentiary back up. Enlightened consumerism. Rational self-interest.
So why not unload the LCBO as Mr. Hudak floated this week? Should the government really be in the business of selling alcohol when there are hospital waiting lists to shorten and children to be educated? As if those things are all entirely mutually exclusive.
But what about the billion or two the LCBO generates for provincial coffers, Galloway asks the leader of the opposition. Money that goes into helping with health care and education costs. How do you replace that source of revenue for the sake of a one-time sale?
Back tracking commenced, Mr. Hudak chuckles uncomfortably and mouths some words that essentially say that he may be crazy but he’s not that crazy… something, something. He’s not going to do anything that would make the situation worse, silly. It’s just, the government shouldn’t be ‘opening up fancy new LCBO stores’ and ‘investing scarce tax dollars in great lighting, nice floors and fancy shelves’?
Now here’s what gets me with this line of thinking, and it’s the same reasoning these people throw around with their concept of the private sector building us subways. I’m hazarding a guess here but I’m pretty sure it’s not LCBO employees splitting their time selling me a box of wine with redesigning and remodelling the stores. The LCBO decides it needs a new store or to renovate an old one, who does it? The private sector.
Now, we can talk about proper tendering of contracts and deals or whatever but that’s another matter. To suggest, as Mr. Hudak does, that putting public money – i.e tax dollars – into public infrastructure like transit or retail LCBO outlets is only a drain on our finances simply ignores the other side of the economic equation. It creates jobs. The government can create jobs which, you know how this goes, puts money into peoples’ pockets blah, blah, blah.
And arguably, investing in LCBO stores contributes more directly to the province’s bottom line than does public transit. No, I’m not saying booze is more important than transit. I’m just suggesting there’s no real compelling argument at an economic level for selling off the LCBO.
So proponents of privatization always fall back onto choice. We should be able to buy the booze of our choice where we want, when we want. End stop. Anything less is nanny statism at its worst.
This is the one argument that never fails to provoke divisions among even the most politically cohesive group. Friends and acquaintances shake their head at my quaint attachment to our quaint ways of selling liquor. Yes, I know it is the legacy of a more severe, prudish time. Of course, I’d like to see more liberalized laws especially in terms of where one can consume alcohol. There are improvements that can be made.
But, and I suggested this earlier in the week on Twitter, if you ever find yourself at any time of the day on any day of the week without any booze in the house? You’ve simply not been trying hard enough. I’ll spare you the tales of back-in-my-days woe except to say that alcohol shopping was not a particularly uplifting retail experience. It was talk of privatization by the Mike Harris government (and if he couldn’t make a business case for selling the LCBO, what’s changed now?) that really seemed to shake things up and make liquor and beer stores more consumer friendly.
I hear talk of certain shangra-las, free of want, where alcohol flows bounteously, cheaply. Alberta. West Virginia (!?!) Places where one can saunter up to a counter anywhere and demand to be sold the bottle of their choice. An I.P.A made from the fresh streams of Pontifidale, kind sir. I want it. And I want it now.
Now, no booze shirker am I, but such places seem almost mythical to me. Yes, I have encountered lovely little boutique liquor stores with a nice assortment of what I’m looking for. I’ve also purchased a six pack or two at corner store where the clerk sits behind a wall of bullet proof glass. For a while back in the 90s, I even prided myself with a 40 oz plastic bottle bearing only the word ‘Vodka’ on its plain white label with blue stripes that a bought at a supermarket called Ralph’s.
My point is, I don’t feel particularly hard done by when it comes to getting my booze on here in Ontario. Until somebody can show me how privatization will make things better for everyone, colour me skeptical. Remember, we’re not talking about some benign widget that we’re fitting into a theoretical economic model. Alcohol is a shatterer of lives in many ways that ultimately takes a toll on any government’s bottom line.
Arguing personal choice smacks of empty retail politics, frankly, that over-emphasizes individual rights over the common good.
— bibulously submitted by Cityslikr