Where Ontario’s candidates for Premier stand on retail beer, and why it doesn’t matter

Over the past few days, much ado has been made about the candidates running to be the premier of Ontario and their various positions on beer sales in this province.

Doug Ford got the party started on May 18th by releasing an official statement through the PC party that he would “expand the sale of beer and wine into corner stores, box stores and grocery stores all across our province.”

In response, Kathleen Wynne opted to hold a press conference on Tuesday  that was, at best, embarrassing, in which she doubled down on her ongoing policy decision related to retail alcohol and invited no less than the CEO of MADD and the head of OPSEU, the union that oversees the LCBO, to join her. Basically, she confirmed she’s sticking to the grocery store plan she enacted (which, to be fair, was actually the biggest change to retail alcohol sales in something like 70 years).

Andrea Horvath, who presumably didn’t want to miss out on the fun of distracting voters from actual issues, then commented and suggested that an NDP government might actually review the entire idea of selling wine and beer at grocery stores all together—which seems entirely consistent with a pro-union NDP. They opposed the idea of beer in grocery stores at the outset.

The various announcements have been good for a media cycle given that the party leaders have provided easy to mock soundbites about beer near chocolate bars or beer instead of cheese, etc. Occasional beer blogger Dan Grant dusted off the keyboard for a good rant about it , the conservative leaning “Free My Booze” campaign has been enjoying an orgy of facebook meme creation, the twitterverse has been doing what the twitterverse does , the Toronto Sun offered up a typically hyperbolic op-ed (or maybe two? I can only read so much Toronto Sun before I start bleeding from every opening in my body), columnists wrote columns, etc—but to me, everyone seems to be missing the point. Namely that this doesn’t fucking matter at all.

Sure, the issue and the leaders’ responses are arguably symptomatic of each party and the public can use this to exemplify their perception of each of their flaws (one promising a free market with no real consideration for actual policy, one digging in to its existing policy with its metaphorical ears plugged, and one letting unions dictate policy) but we’re talking about beer in corner stores as if it’s an important issue.

And it ain’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel strongly that the current beer retail system, which regulates beer sales to the mostly-foreign-brewery-owned Beer Store, the government-run LCBO, and now—seemingly inexplicably—a handful of grocery stores, is broken. It’s clearly a subject about which I am passionate. But it will not inform the way I vote, and I’d suggest that it probably shouldn’t affect your vote either.

It’s probably first worth considering the validity of these claims, of course. I’d argue that the Liberals are the only ones here you could probably count on to stick to their guns on their statement—but as Dan Grant showed us, that statement isn’t exactly doing the party any favours with most voters and the Liberals’ chances of actually winning are looking rather bleak this election. Additionally, you should view virtually any claims party leaders make leading up to the election with a good degree of skepticism, especially when the one promising to be the white knight has never worked in provincial politics, has not yet released a comprehensive platform, and hasn’t shown much grasp of how government actually works.

But I Doug-ress.

Even if you assumed that the leaders had based their claims on well-vetted research and the best interests of consumers and that they all planned to actually follow-through on what they’ve said, it’s worth considering: How much do you actually care about beer sales? I mean, obviously I do, and probably you do too given that you’re reading this, and if you work in the province’s beer industry, you probably care a little more – but when it comes to making a decision about which party you’ll elect to lead this province, should “where you buy beer” really even register on your list of criteria?

This feels like an important election – and I feel strongly that it’s always important to vote or at least spoil your ballot so that you are participating in the process – so it’s probably a good idea not to get distracted by easily-digested news items about things like beer. There’s a lot at stake.

One party has announced a whopping $20.3 billion in new spending and another has proposed to cut $6 billion from the budget without providing any details as to how. There’s a battle being fought over minimum wage rates, corporate tax cuts and hikes are being proposed, provincial healthcare could prove to a be battleground once we see the PC platform, two parties are proposing large investment in education while one wants to “review the curriculum in all core subject areas,” the parties have vastly different approaches to the environment and carbon taxes — the list goes on and on.

And so beer should be pretty low on that list, in my opinion.

So I want to suggest that you vote based on what’s actually important to you. Once we decide who to elect based on real issues, we can talk about beer with whomever we wake up with on June 8th. I promise.

11 thoughts on “Where Ontario’s candidates for Premier stand on retail beer, and why it doesn’t matter

  1. Not beer related, but why is it better to spoil your ballot vs not voting? I’d say an informed non-vote is just as valid as an informed vote, and an uninformed non-vote is just as good as a spoiled ballot.

  2. A spoiled ballot means you actually made an effort to show up and vote. It’s recorded and is actual proof you cared enough to think about the vote. Not showing up (informed or otherwise) and not voting is a cop out. Who knows what your reason was and more importantly who cares. If you bitch about the result, beer related or otherwise, after the election then your a hypocrite.

    1. I don’t agree. Having the right to something, like the right to vote, means you also have the right not to vote. If we were talking about speech instead of voting, your argument would be it’s better to say gobbly-gook than nothing at all.
      Also the argument that if you didn’t vote you have no right to complain doesn’t hold. If the choice is between different types of poisons and I choose not to have any poison, I have every right to complain when poison is forced onto me. And since I view this election as such, I will not vote which of the lesser poisons I wish to put up with. My choice is none, and I will not falsely partake in the process by spoiling my ballot in order to justify my not wanting to be poisoned.

    2. I have to agree with Jeff. Of course you have the legal right not to vote and the legal right to complain – that’s not what we are talking about. We are talking about what impact you can have. If you choose to show up and spoil a ballot, the number of spoiled ballots is made public and you at least send a message to the political parties. If you don’t show up to vote, you add to the statistic of people who mainly haven’t paid attention and don’t know the importance of different proposed policies.

      Also, great post Ben. It’s a high-stakes election for issues like climate change, health care, inequality. Hopefully people can see that.

  3. I don’t believe a thing politicians say before election day. Remember David Peterson and his promise back in what, 1985? It doesn’t matter to me where I buy my over taxed beer at all. I am a homebrewer.

  4. It’s actually a ‘declined vote,’ not a ‘spoiled ballot.’ You have to present yourself to the voting location and state your intention to decline your ballot, not write something rude on it.

  5. Yes, I forgot declining the ballot is an option in Ontario. It isn’t in every province and isn’t federally. If it is an option which is counted separately (as it is in Ontario), then yes, I concede it is a better option than an informed non-vote.

  6. I’ll be voting for the commies in orange for the first time in my life. No way I’ll vote a bloated, full of shit Scion who’s only real ‘job’ was selling dope in High School. People need to get out and vote. #anyone but Ford

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