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.
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