“Aren’t there more pressing issues to worry about?”
It’s a question I get a lot.
In March 2016, I launched a campaign to end the near-monopoly that exists over alcohol sales in Ontario. My campaign has a simple goal: to create an open market for alcoholic beverages in Ontario, allowing all retail stores to be able to get a licence to sell beer, wine and spirits.
My detractors – mostly Beer Store and LCBO employees – are convinced that I’m a hired gun for some evil corporate overlords, being paid for my advocacy. If that’s not the case, then the only other explanation is that I own a convenience store, a brewery, or a distillery. In short, they think there has to be a financial interest at the root of this campaign. There isn’t.
I launched the campaign when I was unemployed and had too much time on my hands. I was annoyed by the tepidness of our political leadership when it came to good policy. Since then, I’ve managed the campaign on evenings and weekends, occasionally booking holidays to set up interviews or meetings.
Since launching the campaign, I’ve invested literally hundreds of hours of my own time and thousands of my own dollars into it. Friends who have helped me launch the campaign have made comparable commitments. Many other friends have committed their own time and money to the campaign in varying degrees.
It’s been a major commitment for something that, at the end of the day, will get me little (if any) reward.
I’ll spare you a detailed account of why this is good public policy. If you’re reading this article on this site, you likely agree. Creating an open market for alcohol would increase convenience for consumers, provide increased government revenue, and would create thousands of private sector jobs. If you’re not convinced of those things, I’d invite you to read the Ontario government’s own 2005 report, Strategy for Transforming Ontario’s Beverage Alcohol System, or the C.D. Howe Institute’s 2014 report, Uncorking a Strange Brew : The Need for More Competition in Ontario’s Alcoholic Beverage Retailing System.
So this brings us back to where we started. Why is this important?
In politics, it is always best to be ahead of public opinion, not behind it. You want to look at the trends, see where the public is headed, and help lead them there. History and elections favour those that do. Just as Mulroney did with free trade, it’s time for us to get ahead of public opinion.
I’ve spoken to thousands of Ontarians. The more they think about Ontario’s alcohol system, the more they’re fed up. They’ve had a friend come over for Sunday Night Football, unable to pick up some extra beer because it was 6:00pm. They’ve run out of wine on Christmas Eve. They’ve traveled out of province and seen the vibrant alcohol markets in Quebec, Alberta, the United States, and Europe. It’s an issue that resonates with normal, everyday, non-political people.
And it’s an issue whose time has come.
After 30 years of Ontarians debating the value of the LCBO and the Beer Store, cracks are starting to show. Agency stores are well established in rural Ontario, and even Kathleen Wynne has given in to pressure to sell beer in a handful of grocery stores across the province. While these are minor accomplishments, they give up the moral high ground – admitting that, contrary to what we’ve been told before, private retailers can be trusted to sell alcohol in Ontario.
Now that Pandora’s Box has been opened, it is simply a matter of time.
As Conservatives, we can be behind the Liberals on reform, or ahead of them. The choice is ours.
We can lead the reform – embrace free market principles, take it away from special interests, and overhaul the entire system – or we can leave it to the Liberals, who will continue their piecemeal approach that caters to narrow special interests.
The choice is simple. The message is a conservative one – a belief in people, free markets, and less government. This is an issue where we can lead public opinion by being true to our principles. We’d be fools to ignore the chance. But time is running out.