LCBO strike vote buoys calls for liquor distribution privatization

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Threats of job action are another reason why Ontario should privatize liquor sales, according to a taxpayer watchdog.

On Tuesday, 95 per cent of the 7,000 Liquor Control Board of Ontario retail staff voted to go on strike if ongoing negotiations with management break down.

If they do strike they could potentially close down 600 government owned retail outlets, leaving Ontarions without their favourite beverages or force them to buy their booze in Quebec or the United Sates.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union spokesperson Heather MacGregor told Newstalk 1010 that the vote doesn't mean that there will be a strike — she noted that the union also voted in favour of job action in 2005 and 2009 but ultimately didn't walk out.

[ Related: LCBO workers vote in favour of strike ]

Candice Malcolm, of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, doesn't approve of the bargaining tactic.

"This is the problem with a government monopoly. They can hold our system hostage, disrupt services, and demand more money," she told Yahoo! Canada News in an email exchange.

"This is why Ontario should take a page from Alberta and end the LCBO's monopoly, just as Ralph Klein dismantled the Alberta Liquor Control Board in 1993.

"Prohibition is over. Ontario should embrace markets and modernize the way alcohol is distributed in this province."

In 1993, the government of Alberta became the first province to disband their liquor control board and replaced it with a private – albeit highly regulated -- liquor distribution system. The retail system is also now fully privatized so that licensed private stores can sell liquor.

Last year, Malcolm's colleague at the CTF, Derek Fildebrandt, penned a paper touting the advantages of a privatized system.

"[Ralph Klein] ordered the total privatization of Alberta’s state liquor monopoly and the results have been almost universally positive," Fildebrandt wrote.

"Albertans are often shocked when they learn that Ontarians need to plan their day around going to the LCBO or to The Beer Store (often to both if they would like to purchase both a bottle of wine and a case of beer on the same day). Highly restricted hours and few locations mean that going to the liquor store is not the casual stop at the corner that it is in Alberta.

Fildebrandt also claims that, since privatization in Alberta, prices have come down, consumers have more choice and government revenues have stayed relatively constant.

[ Related: LCBO stores raise funds for Autism Ontario ]

Ontario's Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak is promising to at least open up liquor retailing to the private sector if his party wins the next election.

In the meantime, Ontarions are forced to wait and hope that negotiations continue.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

Are you a politics junkie?
Follow @politicalpoints on Twitter!