On the rocks:
“Let’s let the private sector into the alcohol business, let’s have some more competition,” he told reporters outside an LCBO outlet in Toronto’s Liberty Village that refused to let him hold his news conference inside.
Hudak said it’s time Ontario opened up its liquor retailing, like Alberta and other jurisdictions.
“A lot of states and provinces have moved out of the public control of alcohol and they actually found they increased choice and increased revenue for the government at the same time,” he said.
Even when he talks like a conservative, Tim Hudak makes me suspicious. Let me modify that slightly. When Tim Hudak talks like a conservative I'm doubly suspicious of the Tory leader. It's like hearing Justin Trudeau talk about monetary policy. The lines are too carefully memorized. So what exactly is the Ken Doll of Ontario politics up to?
The working assumption should be, as it is with most pols, that he is trying to attract attention to himself. For the last two months media coverage has focused on the provincial Liberal leadership race. The Dalt's cabal is getting the spotlight as they politely fight for what might, just might, be a poisoned chalice. Meanwhile no one is paying attention to the Tories. This terrifies politicians. Being hated is one thing. You can survive being hated. No pol can survive being ignored.
Bereft of new ideas the Tory High Command has decided to polish off an idea so old it was initially proposed by David Peterson, Ontario's very own perma-tan premier back in the 1980s. Both the Harris and McGuinty governments mooted the idea before rejecting it. The notion seems, if you will excuse an old campaign slogan, common sense for a change. Yet governments never seem to want to make the leap.
It's an idea that makes abundant logical sense, though not much political sense. The two senses being only tangentially related to one another. The LCBO brings in lots of money. Politicians love money because it gives them what they truly want out of life: Power. Privatizing the LCBO, unlike say privatizing financially sickly creatures such as the Mulroney era Petro Canada and Air Canada, would mean an immediate loss of revenue. That revenue might be made up later through higher tax revenues, though it might not. From a purely revenue standpoint it would be a calculated risk.
Politicians hate that too.
Privatizing the LCBO, with no change to its monopoly powers, would likely do little to improve consumer choice and pricing while depriving the political and bureaucratic class of an enormous engine of patronage. So everyone's a loser here, except whoever buys the LCBO. Freeing the alcohol market, on the admittedly quaint assumption that adults can be trusted to buy wine and beer in the same building without going mad, would at least improve the lot of ordinary Ontarians.
The LCBO is a grossly inefficient organization with a top-heavy management and an overpaid and over unionized workforce. Monkees with a table and a bar stool could likely deliver better quality at lower prices, even considering the gouging tax rates applied to booze. The economic case is overwhelmingly strong. Think of it in a counterintuitive way: Does anyone this side of Marxism actually believe that having a Soft Drink or a Potato Chip Control Board would be a benefit to consumers? Not that I want to give the nanny-statists any ideas.
But politics isn't about consumers, it's about politicians getting and keeping power. The LCBO employs about 3500 full time and thousands more part-time workers. These employees are represented by OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employees Union) and include some of the most featherbedded positions in the whole of the public service. If OPSEU cannot defend a branch of government that actually makes money from cutbacks and market forces, how the hell is it going to defend the rest of the provincial Leviathan? Privatization would be a test of credibility for OPSEU.
To attack the LCBO would be a declaration of war on OPSEU. The political cost would likely be very high. The benefit? The board returned to the government last year $1.6 billion. That a nice pile, but the estimated 2011-2012 revenues for the Ontario government stand at $109.3 billion. Engaging in a political battle royal for a rounding error in the provincial revenues just isn't worth it. So the LCBO keeps lumbering along, an absurd anachronism in an age of readily available marijuana and ecstasy.
If Timmy Hudak was a genuine conservative he would not call for liberalizing the booze market in Ontario for financial reasons, or even on the basis of consumer choice. He would instead call for an end to the LCBO monopoly for the only reason that truly matters: Its existence is morally offensive in a free nation.
When the board was created in 1927, to replace the prohibition regime then in force, the Ontario Premier of the day declared that it would "allow people to exercise a God-given freedom under reasonable restrictions." That paternalistic conceit has never been properly challenged. Until it is OPSEU and the provincial government will continue to gouge consumers and Ontarians will have just that much less freedom.