Listen Up! There are more important things than beer




Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

It was Queen Victoria who said something like this. “Give my people beer. Give them good beer. Give them cheap beer and they will be happy.” Clearly, Premier Doug Ford must have heard about that, because he is passing legislation to allow the sale of beer and wine in grocery and variety stores. It is a populist move and, no doubt, it will meet with the approval of many. He will make his people happy.

Even I don’t think it is that big a deal, but a few things do strike me about all of this. One of the main arguments the government uses for putting wine and beer in corner stores is because they are breaking up a monopoly where three major beer companies control the flow of suds in Ontario. A little tongue in cheek perhaps, as the government has its own monopoly when it comes to selling liquor. Beer, wine and liquor all have alcoholic content. If two of these can be sold in corner stores, why not the third? The answer is simple. Control of liquor sales by the government is much too lucrative. They have no intention of sharing the proceeds with anyone else. Hypocritical? Maybe.

I must say, however, that the prize for hypocrisy this week goes to the Toronto Star, whose columnist, Martin Regg Cohn, accused Doug Ford of Bolshevism by “blowing The Beer Store out of the water”. Pretty strong words.

On any other day, this same, left-leaning newspaper would most likely vigorously oppose a conglomerate of Molson-Coors, Labatt, and Sleeman, whose entire ownership lies outside of Canada, controlling almost an entire marketplace when it comes to selling beer in Ontario. (The LCBO does sell limited beer products.) Their normal approach would be to support the little guy, the small business owners who they would say deserve the opportunity to compete and to have more access to products they can sell. But no, not this time. Much too tempting to forget all of that for the moment and label the Ford government as Bolsheviks for cancelling their exclusive contract with The Beer Store.

One thing that does bother me is how big a deal this has all become, when there are really much more important things for the Ford government to worry about. During the past few days, one could hardly scroll down six inches on Facebook without seeing some Conservative MPP at their favorite corner store somewhere in the province lauding the legislation that will get beer and wine into these stores. Obviously, they had their marching orders. Wouldn’t it be nice, however, if their marching orders were to talk about things that really matter, other than populist initiatives?

Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives were elected on a strong mandate to lower the cost of government. They inherited a $15 billion deficit and a debt of $347 billion, the largest of any sub-national government in the entire world. It is unsustainable and, while easy to ignore, it must be addressed or the day will come when there will be no money in the till to support important core services like the environment, health and education. This is no less true than those who ignore the need to address the causes of climate change. To do nothing on either front will be equally catastrophic.

There are those who will say that the cuts that have been announced during the past year by the Ford government are wrong. Some of them may be. It is hard to tell without a fuller explanation of why these particular services were chosen and what alternatives are in place for the programs that are being eliminated. And it is also true that some of these cuts appear to be more knee jerk than part of a comprehensive plan to lower the cost of government. Lacking a better communications plan, that is why support for the Ford government is beginning to fade.

But while people may object to individual cuts, and perhaps the NIMBY principal (not in my back yard) comes in here, surely, few people would deny that there is terrible waste in government. We have all seen it. Buildings and office space no longer needed and empty, automobile fleets that are underutilized, duplication of services that are offered at other levels, and services that are not really the business of government. One need only read the annual reports of the Auditor General to know where the fat and waste is in government. There are plenty of places to trim the excess without hurting core services.

Government is not meant to be all things to all people. Can it reasonably be argued, for instance, that it is a government’s job, especially a government that is over its head in debt, to help children stop smoking? I thought that’s what parents were for. And why, pray tell, should a person under 25 get tax-funded prescriptions when they are covered through a family health plan? In my view, there are hundreds if not thousands of examples like these that could seriously lower the cost of government.

I would like to see the Ford government develop a comprehensive five-year plan to cut the cost of government by at least 10 per cent. I believe it can be done and I believe enough waste and duplication can be found to do it, without harming and indeed by enhancing core government responsibilities including health, education and the environment. Forget about catering to populists. Not many of us want to start drinking at 9 a.m. And stop spending millions of our tax dollars fighting the feds on the carbon tax. Right or wrong, it is unlikely you are going to win that one.

Instead, concentrate on righting the good ship Ontario. That is what you were elected to do and that is how you will win next time around. So please, let us see your plan.

And to those who are not aware, I am a Conservative speaking my mind to a Conservative government. How I wish some of my Liberal friends would have the courage to do the same.

Hugh Mackenzie

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  1. I may be wrong , it happens , but I think people who clamour after ” Cheap ” beer ,aka , “buck – beer ” are not people who often vote. Taking a monopoly from Foreign Company’s that control the majority of beer sales in this Province is not a bad thing considering the way they have treated the Craft Brewers in Ontario….The Liquor Store is far better at display and sales of quality beer , read Craft Beer , and is a far better shopping experience…Cheers / Slainte !

  2. Hugh,
    We are both conservative and seems both disillusioned by some of what Ford is doing.
    The ship will straighten out I think. It will simply take time.
    Ford’s list should include reductions in the size of government by attrition.
    As liquor is taxed by the province and that is where the liquor sales revenue comes from why would it matter who sells It? If there are retail and wholesale profits from selling liquor why shouldn’t the private sector have an opportunity to share in them?
    Why do sales of beer, wine and liquor have to be exclusive outlets. Why can’t it be a mix of LCBO outlets and private stores? Same with beer and wine?
    Let the consumer decide. Some won’t care if they shop on a glitzy government store. They should have the option. Pricing should be optional as well. Competition!
    Ford’s job is almost impossible. He faces a hostile audience. Public sector unions, UNFOR, and an unrealistic public squawk at the first sign of any change that might effect them.
    I read recently that Ford is really a softie underneath it all and that he finds it very hard to take action that effects people. True?
    The Conservatives need to get on with the business of shaping Ontario up. Always best to get the hard stuff done in the first year of the mandate. They have a majority and they should I use it.

  3. Ryan Vallentin on

    Please explain your comment

    “And why, pray tell, should a person under 25 get tax-funded prescriptions when they are covered through a family health plan?”

    If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that everyone 25 and under (or their parents rather) can afford a family health plan? I don’t know when you last checked the cost of personal / family health plans in Ontario but they are extremely cost prohibitive. I could have rented a small apartment for the monthly cost of my families last private health plan. I have no doubt that the people who need free prescriptions the most can certainly not afford their very own plans to cover them.

    I can afford a plan, I choose not to have one any longer because the price is so high. Instead, we pay out of pocket for our children’s (and ourselves) prescriptions, dental, and other extended health practices. This costs far less per year then the ‘coverage’

    I see the under 25 free prescriptions as just another social safety net, perhaps we should keep the coverage but only by application / acceptance based on annual income. That would eliminate those who truly can afford prescription coverage from those who can’t.

    • Linda Cannon on

      Because of Wynn’s attempt to buy votes she had the taxpayer pay for all prescriptions for people under the age of 25 regardless of insurance coverage. So employers and individuals paying for coverage were still paying for their prescriptions through their tax dollars even though they had coverage. Their insurance premiums did not go down even though they were no longer paying for drugs, the insurance company was laughing all the way to the bank while millions of tax dollars were spent on drugs for individuals who already had coverage. This was changed April 1/2019, now the government only pays for individuals under 25 with no coverage at all.

  4. Jim Logagianes on

    Thank you Hugh your views on cost reductions are excellent. Everyone can see that we are burdened by excessive government overhead. Muskoka is a good example of that. We have more political representation than Carters has liver pills.. You would think that with this many politicians we would have a modern full service hospital ,quality daycare, modern senior facilities to address the greying population. A robust public transit system.
    No sadly if you live in Muskoka you come to realize that there is not a level playing field when it
    comes to providing services to the region. We lack in all the fore mentioned areas because the people we have been electing have not addressed any of these issues. We still do not have a decision on our hospital. Fairvern is still in the planning stage. Our antiquated sewage treatment plant has not been decommissioned. We are forced to drive on roads that are poorly maintained. The cost to deliver the services we receive from the different levels of government is escalating at and alarming pace. We can no longer fund the necessary services we need and yet the size of government keeps increasing along with the cost.
    One study showing the accumulated cost of maintaining the status quo over the next 30 years will
    Reveal the reality of the situation we face . Increasing the tax burden on everyday Canadians will not solve this problem. Just like our current political mindset that resorts to running deficits, that’s called kicking the can down the road. Over 30 % of our tax dollars goes to servicing our debt, what happens when that number is 60% ?

  5. Charles Wilson on

    The comment was “Give my people beer….. and you will have no revolution amongst them”. It was made during the Chartist uprising in response to the Tory argument for armed suppression. The Chartists demands were
    Votes for all men;
    Equal electoral districts;
    Abolition of the requirement that Members of Parliament be property owners;
    payment for M.P.s;
    annual general elections; and.
    the secret ballot

    Heady stuff in a time where rotten boroughs, like Old Sarum, often only had one or two voters.

    The quote to our ears sound rather like Marie Antoinette’s ill-judged remarks on her people’s digestive system when she suggested cake for a bread-starved 1793 city.

    The difference between the two is the French/Austrian queen didn’t own a cake shop but Queen Victoria did own shares in a brewery.

    Combe, Delafield & Company of Castle Street, Long Acre, and London was one of the largest London brewers it was headed by my great grandfather Frank Wilson who succeeded his father, William as head brewer.

    The royal interest in beer and distilleries had come about when the Royal Africa Company was disbanded in 1821 by order of parliament. The RAC was a slave running organization out of West Africa. The Royals has a direct and rather embarrassing interest in it and plantations in the West Indies. William IV, Victoria’s uncle the Sailor King was very active in the business. It was started by the Stuarts about the same time they started the Hudson’s Bay Company.

    When slavery was abolished no compensation was paid to the slaves, but considerable compensation, was paid to their owners including, presumably the Royals. The cash was invested in fermentation and distillation.

    One of the Royals, Augustus Frederick, The Duke of Sussex, a man who incidentally championed Canada indigenous people’s rights was an abolitionist. His family was deprived of his title by the then King ostensibly for breaching the terms of the Royal Marriages Act but in fact because his anti-slavery rants were embarrassing the slave-owning relatives and their friends.

    Some people were rather surprised when Ms Markel, who claims her family were once slaves in the Americas, took this title forfeited by a member of the royals in part because of his efforts for her forebears.

    I have no idea if Mr Ford is aware of much of this, and the current Duchess of Sussex may not have been either unless of course Mr Trump’s characterization of her is accurate which seems unlikely.

    But beer is a powerful tool of both good and evil. Dr. John Snow, considered one of the fathers of modern epidemiology, because of his work in tracing the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho, London, in 1854 noted those living near and working for my great great grandfather thrived whereas people reliant upon water from the Broad St. well died.

    He concluded brewing beer killed bacteria and that this was a water not airborne disease.

    The British preoccupation with both beer and tea stems from Dr Snow’s finding. Tea needing boiling water too.

    In the Second World War the British government placed no rationing on exactly one nutrient source; beer. So while everything else was rationed, barley and beer wasn’t once again tacit acknowledgement of the veracity of Victoria’s admittedly somewhat self-serving comment.

  6. Hugh Holland on

    Hugh. Let’s take the politics out of the picture for a moment. I suspect that Premier Ford has discovered that finding savings is not as easy as he thought. No matter who is in power, there are always rumours circulating about egregious waste in government operations which occasionally turn out to be true, but often turn out not to be true. In my experience, the difference in efficiency between the public and private sectors is not as big as the cynical nature of people likes to think.

    The federal Liberals and the provincial Conservative, Liberal and NDP governments are all grappling with the same underlying challenges; due to the low birth rate among the so-called old-stock Canadians, (I wish there was a better way to say that) the populations of the big cities are growing and shifting rapidly while the rural and remote areas are not. And while the basic needs of people are the same in both areas, the solutions for meeting the needs are very different. For example, practical transportation solutions in Moosonee are different than the GTHA. Also, the relatively small economies of scale afforded by the populations of Ontario and Canada, compared to for example the USA and China, simply do not support the amount of social and technical research and development that people now expect because of today’s mass communications. So, our politicians of all parties, as good and well-meaning as most of them are, are left like the dog chasing the car; once they catch it, knowing what to do with it is not as easy as they thought. There are some things the private sector can do best and some things that only the public sector can do. Consequently, the voting public needs to be more wary of political promises that we should know cannot be kept. In spite of all the above, Canada still manages to be one of the best places in the world in which to live.

    • Charles Wilson on

      Well said, Mr. Holland. There are indeed few ways that the government can cut expenses without slashing services.
      The reason for this is very simple: the foxes are in charge of the hen house. And the foxes, the civil servant administrators, rarely seem to find their own jobs need cutting.
      So if you don’t cut administration of services you have to cut the services themselves.
      And, as we are seeing with healthcare, the Ford government is actually hiring more administrators, inserting more levels of centralized control in order to achieve what it calls the breakdown of “silos of healthcare”.
      Of course it’s all nonsense.
      The deficit problem isn’t created by the services this provincial government provides, health education, library grants etc. the problem is the infrastructure that supports it all and the debt servicing required to pay the interest on the borrowings the government has made into order buy our votes in the past.
      This is not a new problem. It isn’t even a 20th century problem, although the scale of the problem was ramped up in the 20th century it’s a logical consequence of democratic federal system of government.
      You are responding to the editorial comments by Hugh that waste is endemic in government and a suggestion that it should be cut over a lengthy period of time, specifically a decade. This suggestion would be wonderful except for it’s not.

      The first reason it isn’t is politicians are only elected for four years so decade-long plans simply mean pushing the problem on to whoever has the job next. The second problem is the waste which Hugh cites, cars and buildings are peripheral and in so far as the money did go from the public to the private sector when the purchases were made in the first place and is not a static loss, the least debilitating, the third problem is the provinces don’t have the sovereign power to quantitatively ease debt like top-level or national governments which also control the central banks and the final problem is the people who elect provincial governments do so for their own perceived short-term interests which are rarely and only coincidently commensurate with public interest. The 905ers battle cry “Elect Ford cut our taxes” is a case in point.

      We have two conflicting economic models to follow, that of Freidrich Heyak and that of John Maynard Keynes. The liberals prefer Mr. Keynes who said that governments need to spend on infrastructure into order create the national environment to encourage investment, build roads, rail roads, keep order etc and the tories say no this is all bosh, the private sector will do all this, just don’t tax them and they will create the infrastructure themselves and the benefits of that will trickle down to the peasants.

      Being Canadian we have sought a middle ground – at least we had until Mr. Trudeau started nationalizing pipelines again, apparently unaware that it was pipeline nationalization which brought an end to Liberal hegemony in 1956. The middle ground is let the government build anything where there is low profit and mass use and let private sector build where there is controlled use and high profit. The 407 highway for example. It’s a middle ground which only worked so long as greater and greater government debt was capable of being serviced by greater and greater tax on more and more resource recovery. Now that model is faltering. Ok, has faltered.

      So we need a Plan B. Which shouldn’t be confused with Plan Beer. And since every politician who suggests the obvious immediately loses all cred’ and gets dumped, I hesitate to mention. But it is simple: When we created agrarian Canada 150 years ago, less than 30 per cent of us lived in cities and the rest labored on farms. Today nobody labors on farms, machines do and we nearly all live in cities. Our federal system at best creates a situation where as taxpayers we find outselves funding both sides of completely pointless constitutional arguments, at worst it frustrates our own ability to get the job, the actual job of government done. And that is what is expensive. Not the fleets of idle cars and unused buildings.

  7. Jim Logagianes on

    The provinces provide the bulk of the services we depend on, District and Municipal make up the balance. The most cost effective way for Canada to solve its financial problems in my estimation is to downsize the Federal Government. Or as a nation we can keep pretending that the status quo is our only option, enslaving future generations. I would appreciate others on this forum contributing to this opinion. You can not run a nation by ignoring the economic consequences of maintaining the status quo.

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