by Dave Segaert
elcome to Ontario, a land with such a cumbersome and confusing array of laws and bylaws that it would take Google and all of their fancy computers over 400 years to sort through them all. Some of these laws were hatched in a time when you had to venture into your backyard with a goddamn lantern just to take a shit, some are there to ensure that some rich fat guys get richer and fatter, and some are there so the government can squeeze a few extra dollars out of its beloved citizens because income tax, property tax, sales tax and licenses don't cripple us enough already. Yes, we live in a land of such freedom and democracy that you must pay the government for the privilege of performing such bold acts as: catching a fish, putting a sticker on a license plate, owning an animal, driving a boat, or building something on a property that you already purchased fair and square. Here in the nation's capital, you can't sell a hot-dog without jerking off twenty people and securing enough licenses to choke a camel in the prime of its life. Let's not delve too deep into this overly complicated and ridiculously expensive bureaucracy though, because a) it would take all fucking week, and b) it makes me angry. The thrust of this article is to be a critical analysis of this province's utterly non-sensical and stone-aged methods of delivering alcohol to its eagerly awaiting inhabitants, with a focus on the burgeoning craft beer industry.
Before we progress any further, let us all keep in mind that the provincial government and all of its dynamic and progressive politicians think that we are complete morons. This doesn't need to be foot-noted. This is a fact. If you require some proof, let's harken back to 2008 when the province mandated an increase in the minimum price of beer. The official reason given was that the government has a "social responsibility" mandate that surmised that if beer is too cheap, you may abuse it. First of all, if you were drinking the value beers affected by this ruling, you were probably already abusing it. And secondly, is there anyone with a properly functioning brain who actually believes that raising the price of 24 beers from $24.00 to $26.50 would magically prohibit and/or cure alcoholism? Well, the provincial government needed an excuse to pilfer a few extra tax dollars and stick their nose deeper into the beer industry's shit, so they went with that reasoning, even though you'd need to be mostly stupid to believe something so fantastical and utterly base-less. The only thing this ruling accomplished in terms of reducing alcoholism was that it increased the amount of time that our poor homeless souls would have to spend panhandling in order to afford a quick king-can. Don't forget that people living on the subsistence level who enjoy beer are now short $2.60 worth of laundry money. News-flash: raising the price of beer didn't stop one single person from getting drunk, it just cost them more money.
kSo ya, they think we're stupid. And so here we are, living in what could only be described as either an or ultra-archaic, or ultra-futuristic place where the government controls where you buy alcohol, when you buy alcohol, who you buy alcohol from, when you can get drunk, and where you can get drunk. Come to think of it, the only place you're allowed to get drunk is in someone's home. It's against the law to be drunk in public, and it's against the law to be drunk in a place that sells alcohol. No that's not a typo. It is against the law to get drunk in a bar, but that makes perfect sense in a place where there are 33 separate rules under one bylaw governing the construction of a yard fence. And in this environment of titanic stupidity and political back-scratching, there has been spawned a system of alcohol distribution that even the Toronto Maple Leafs would be embarrassed of.
Let's begin with the debilitating taxes placed on liquor here in Ontario. Anyone who's been to the States or Cuba knows that a bottle of rum isn't supposed to cost $45.00. It only costs this much in Ontario because of the government's crazed obsession with taxing the shit out of stuff. Why is the set provincial tax not sufficient for alcohol? Why does it need to be higher than the tax on say, a baseball hat? Because they've got us by the balls, that's why, and because they've creatively though of 5 different ways to make money every time alcohol is sold in this province.
So, the passing years have devolved into a situation where Ontarians can only buy beer from provincially run LCBO's, or a foreign owned monopoly that only just now has allowed beers other than their own brands to be sold, but only if said beer pays a massive fee for the privilege (it reportedly cost local sweetheart Beau's All Natural Brewing Company $250,000 just to put their beer on the shelves). They impose this fee because they know that most craft brewers can't afford it, so they won't have to worry about those pesky products being sold in place of their own shitty ones. And if someone like Beau's does pay, well, at least The Beer Store made an ass-load of money in the process. We all know the problems with the LCBO. While it has the ability to sell beer, government legislation pushed forth by the foreign owned Beer Store prohibits them from selling anything larger than a six pack. Because The Beer Store gives massive political donations to politicians who love getting their asses kissed, those same politicians quietly passed legislation that mandated all empties be brought to The Beer Store for recycling. The reason: because, and only because, this is one way to force people that would otherwise never go to The Beer Store to go to The Beer Store. And while the LCBO has been increasing the amount of Ontario and Canadian craft beers on their shelves, the selection is mostly regional, it's still only a tiny fraction of what's available, and includes almost nothing from outside of Ontario. In reality, the average beer drinker here in Ottawa has only the most miniscule access to any of the hundreds of craft beers that are being brewed 4 hours away in Toronto, let alone something from British Columbia. This is purely and utterly ridiculous, and needs to change.
And then there's the beer store. This is a place that's owned by three foreign beer mega-conglomerates, with basically no oversight, who's had control over the distribution of beer province wide for 88 years, ramming their shitty products down our throats at the highest possible price and doing everything they can to try and stem the tide of the craft beer industry. Because of this monopoly, and the government's desire to squeeze every ounce of revenue out of alchohol, beer prices in this province are significantly higher than most places in the world. Ever wonder why it costs $8.00 for one beer at a bar? The bar has to pay the government massive amounts of money in order to sell beer, then they have to pay The Beer Store massive amounts of money to carry products, then a beer is sold and the government gets another cut, this time from tax, then the bar has to cover their overhead and make a profit. It's no mystery as to why they would like to carry on with this system, and despite their finely honed political rhetoric stating otherwise, the government and The Beer Store seem to be doing everything in their power to prevent the growth of craft beer.
The government has been desperately trying to placate this increasingly frustrated public, proof being the recent report that beer will now be sold in grocery stores, which I'll talk about later, but there were also some changes made in 2011 when the government "modernized" liquor laws. These progressive and sweeping changes included such earth-shattering and game changing laws like:
"Boat tours can begin serving alcohol before the boat leaves the dock." Thank Christ!! Wait, why weren't they allowed to serve booze on the dock in the first place?
"All-inclusive vacation packages, that include the price of alcohol, can now be sold in Ontario." Thank you, oh gracious government, for allowing us to buy alcohol in a different country.
"Permits will be able to be issued for multiple day events, and the carryover of liquor will be allowed between occurrences." Huh?
Bullshit changes like this are only made so the government can say that they've been fixing the problem. The real problems are never tackled realistically, or with any actual desire to change the current system. For example, because of some sweetheart deals between The Beer Store and the province, craft breweries are prohibited by law from opening a second location to sell their products. Laws like these, which have been limiting the growth of craft breweries in Ontario, have come under more scrutiny in the past year due to the undeniable swell of interest from beer drinkers to get their hands on better products. Forced to act, only because there's always an election down the road, the government will likely be opening up beer sales in grocery stores. While this news was initially met with much rejoicing, the luster wore off almost immediately as people in the know started to enlighten us about grocery store shelving politics, notably the ability of grocery stores to accept money to give shelving priorities. The news was met with a collective "meh" from the craft beer industry, as they have correctly surmised that it won't really change anything for the better. Then the wheels came off completely when it was discovered that The Beer Store would retain its profits as the official middle-man, and that the grocery stores would have to bid on the ability to carry alcohol, all proceeds going to the government of course. Our noble hero, Kathleen Wynne, robbing from the rich and then giving back to the rich, then giving to herself, then not giving a shit about the craft beer industry.
Walking into a dedicated beer store anywhere in the USA is enough to incite a huge beer-nerd boner, as I've personally seen stores with aisles and aisles containing hundreds and hundreds of craft beers. Having stores such as these in Ontario would prevent me from dejectedly walking into an LCBO, where I know that I'll be left to choose from the same 20 or 30 craft beers that I always have to choose from, and would also allow craft brewers to get their products to broader audience. Win-win right?
So we come to present day, and the latest development is that craft brewers are politely asking that Ontario allow dedicated stores that sell craft beer, without restrictions and discrimination, to an ever more knowledgeable and thirsty public. It's a pretty simple request, made complicated by Ontario's political back-slapping, the governments overly complicated internal workings, and their intriguing love of millions and millions of miles of red tape. The only argument standing in the way, and a flimsy one at that, is that opening the floodgates and allowing alcohol to be sold in such a "willy nilly" fashion will somehow lead to the rapid and complete degeneration of society. You've maybe seen the commercial that implies that convenience store owners are creepy-looking and devious mother-fuckers that salivate at the chance to sell liquor to minors. This is one of many desperate ploys by frightened businessmen to cling to their government supported monopoly.
This whole situation is a glimpse into how politics actually work. Probably about 10 million Ontarians and about 150 craft brewers would like to see changes. Standing in the way, 3 massive conglomerates that donate hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to political interests. Can you guess who's going to win? The only way craft brewers stand a chance is if the provincial government sees this issue as enough of a threat to affect voting patterns, because they certainly aren't going to throw away The Beer Store's hundreds of thousands of dollars just to placate a few million constituents. That would be crazy.
I think we all know what would happen if craft brewers were allowed to sell craft beer on their own terms. Society would carry on as per usual. The differences being that people would have access to better beer, and small independent business owners would flourish. The government would still get its cut, and the big beer companies will still be stinking rich because Bud Light will always have a place in this world. By my count, that's four out of four parties going home happy.