Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Beer Store needs to die.

The only thing it's good for is hilarious photo-ops.  Source.
So,

Most frequenters of my blog, [those attractive, be-monocled, top-hat wearing ladies and gentlemen] will probably realise that I like beer.  No doubt some of you know that I have been known to brew my own, seek out new and exciting brews, and sometimes indulge a little too enthusiastically.  It would then logically follow that, as with almost everything else in the world, I think about beer more than many would deem necessary or even reasonable.  It is due to this combination of borderline obsessive behaviour and my leisure reading that I have come to the conclusion that The Beer Store needs to die, and I hope you will too!

"Now why," you say, "would you want The Beer Store to end?"  Well, you attractive and intelligent reader, let me tell you how the Beer Store came to be.  It was the most magical time in the 1920s, Prohibition had been repealed!  But, in keeping with the Puritan-esque traditions, many were cursed with the fear that someone, somewhere, might enjoy themselves.  In fairness, many fathers were drinking away their paycheques at the local bar and/or beating members of their families, but it seems likely this was due to larger societal/social/psychological issues moreso than the fact that beer was available to people.  So, to placate those upset that beer was once again to be sold, in 1927 Ontario decided to found Brewer's Retail, a consortium of Ontario beer brewers that would sell their wares in a heavily controlled manner, similar to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.  Please note that Brewer's Retail is not a government-owned institution like the LCBO, but is owned by the brewers themselves.

Now, this made sense at the time.  The citizens demanded controls over the sale of beer, and Ontario brewers opened a retail system which would facilitate controlled sales.  However, about 90 years has elapsed and the situation has changed ever so slightly.  Whereas The Beer Store was owned by Ontarians to serve Ontarians, the ownership group has shifted via acquisitions to be 49% ownership each to Labatt's and Molson, and 2% ownership by Sleeman's.  Still doesn't seem that bad, right?  I mean, they're all Canadian brewers, right?  Wrong.  Labatt's is now owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, Molson is the international Molson-Coors, and Sleeman's is owned by Sapporo.  So suddenly the ownership is spread over the entire globe and the profits from Brewer's Retail is not flowing back into Ontarian coffers unless you're buying beer directly from a local brewery.

Not surprisingly, politicians and writers alike have noticed this profound tomfoolery and called for an end to Brewer's Retail.  Again, unsurprisingly, The Beer Store has released Ontario Beer Facts, which makes the following [mostly ludicrous] assertions:

Pictured: An international conglomerate with a sweetheart deal soils its trousers.
On the first point: The Beer Store keeps consumer prices low?  Really?  Is that why Ontarians flock across the border to Qu├ębec to buy beer?  Even Wikipedia has an entry which points out that pre-tax costs are lower in La Belle Province.  And don't tell me that it's due to lower consumer demand, because a combination of anecdote and observation that Canadian francophones are no strangers to inebriation.  I can't see why the second point is valid either, private industry (particularly specialty stores), is perfectly capable of offering niche products to the masses.  And, with increased sales and lower prices, the tax revenue should go up for the province, as has been demonstrated by every other province that has privatised beer sales.  And increased sales to minors?  I'm not sure on that point, but I've seen plenty of convenience stores that check IDs quite rigorously for tobacco sales for fear of losing their license.  I have no reason to believe this would be any different.

The only thing good about The Beer Store is the recycling system, as they capture upwards of 90% of recyclable materials.  That said, I think Ontario should introduce a system like Alberta's Bottle Depot which encourages recycling of everything, not just beer or liquor bottles.

And, as a brief aside, I will tell you that some great resources to learn about beer are the Stuff You Should Know podcast on the subject, and a thoroughly enjoyable Future Chat webcast where the cousins Attrell and I talked about beer.  And, as I'm sure I mentioned there (or perhaps in a previous My Utopia post), I find it fascinating that beer is roughly as old as agriculture, and thus civilisation itself.  Therefore, I feel that beer should be the recipient of the ultimate grandfather clause in our society.  Beer used to be the source of clean drinking water, and some of our oldest texts contain instructions for brewing beer.  Beer has been so tightly bound with Western society that it should be nigh on a human right, and government intervention should be minimal.  Save of course for consumer regulations like the Bavarian Purity Laws of 1516, because regulations are a good thing.

In recent days, news has come out that rather than abolish the whole thing, the Wynne government might just increase taxation of Brewer's Retail so that their $700 million in annual profits might be reduced ever so slightly.  Frankly, I'm joining with the other voices which call for an end to this non-governmental monopoly.  Free the market and allow Ontarians to be awash in cheap, delicious beer.  Tax revenue will increase, Ontario breweries should see increased business and the world will be a better place.  Please enjoy responsibly.

NM

Edit (2014-11-04): Since the comment in question appears to have been deleted (or not shared publicly) after I received a notification e-mail, I'll leave them anonymous.  However, they did raise a concern with my use of the $700 million figure, and it is now cited.  The study in question found the average price difference for a 24 pack of Molson Canadian to be $9.50 and extrapolated this towards the sum in question, which I grant seems like terrible methodology.  Another study discussed here says that the price gap is much lower when taxes are considered (about $3.34 as opposed to $9.50 with taxes considered, though that still seems a tidy profit).  However, the first study was sponsored by the Ontario Convenience Store Association (which would like very much to sell said beer), and the second study was funded by the multinationals that own Brewer's Retail.
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