The Star’s Martin Regg Cohn joined us for a thought-provoking discussion politics of alcohol in Ontario back in May. Cohn noted that while most people are not interested in Ontario politics, they are interested in beer. However, Cohn situated the discussion as from a policy perspective.
This topic is always a hotly debated topic, as many Ontarians remain unaware that the Beer Store is controlled by multinationals that are largely based outside of Canada. A recent investigative piece by the Mr. Cohn in the Toronto Star accused the Beer Store and the LCBO of working together to employ non-competitive business practices for beer sales.
Surprisingly, Cohn admitted that he is not much of a beer drinker. However, Cohn stressed that one need not be a beer drinker to be frustrated by these foreign-owned conglomerates benefiting from the current situation.
The initial impetus for Cohn’s investigation began due to former PC leader Tim Hudak, who seized on this topic with a discussion of privatizing LCBO and Beer Store.
Many wondered why this system has existed for so long, with virtually no one whistle-blowing or bringing attention to these huge concerns. Cohn stressed the connection to fundraising and how MPPs of all stripes routinely hold fundraisers at the breweries and receive donations. As such, Cohn stressed how it was in the best interest of many to not say anything.
Cohn was a fan of some recent changes and endorsed the government’s recent decision to allow for beer sales in grocery stores. He thinks this will bring about considerable change to the existing system.
However, one of Cohn’s chief concerns is customer service. He stressed that the pricing of beer was never a chief concern. Rather, Cohn kept on stressing the fact that he does not believe that the Beer Store makes sense from a customer point of view.
The questions were thought-provoking and the audience was clearly engaged, with many tough questions. Many asked how Ontario compares to other jurisdictions. The audience was surprised to learn that Ontario is entirely unique: there is no other jurisdiction that has a government-owned distribution centre and no system similar to the Beer Store.
One of the most notable questions of the night asked how can we fix the current situation when the beer lobby is so influential. Cohn stated that the ideal fix would be a ban on union and corporate contributions and said said the province should follow what has been done federally.
While there has been a recent expansion of liquor sales in Ontario, it is clear that this topic is still on Ontarian’s minds and there is still much to discuss.
Thanks to Martin Regg Cohn for coming out and engaging our audience in a great discussion.