QUEEN’S PARK – With a $30-billion deficit looming over Ontarians’ heads, the time has come to reconsider every function the government performs, ensuring it focuses on core public services and stops meddling in other areas. The sale and distribution of alcohol needs to be part of that discussion, Ontario PC Finance Critic Peter Shurman said this week.
“Our province is in a jobs crisis, but the Liberals would rather produce a glossy magazine on summer cocktails than fix the fiscal mess they’ve created for Ontarians,” Shurman said. “On July 25, the Ontario Convenience Stores Association presented a petition with 112,000 signatures calling for the government to ends its monopoly over the liquor market. Despite the potential economic benefits for Ontarians, Dalton McGuinty shot the idea down right away, refusing to even consider it.”
Currently, the government is responsible for regulating the province’s liquor market, while also providing all retail and distribution services. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) operates more than 620 retail liquor stores and plans to open 70 new stores over the next two years.
“Before rushing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on new liquor stores, why didn’t the government look at what private sector businesses can bring to market?” Shurman said. “The private sector already runs liquor stores all around the world, providing investment capital to open new stores and letting competition drive products and sales. Government coffers still receive revenue, and public funds go towards more important services – like health care and education – or paying down the debt.”
Shurman stated that anytime a monopoly exists in a market, the potential for economic growth declines and higher costs burden consumers. Last year, the Auditor General found the LCBO does not negotiate discounts for high-volume purchases to reduce its costs. The agency could also improve how it selects products, as lackluster ones have stayed on shelves for years despite low customer demand.
“In Quebec and B.C., competition fro m private retailers has improved service and selection for customers. And look – the sky hasn’t fallen in either province,” Shurman said. “We need to meet consumer demand if we want our liquor market to be as strong as possible. The private sector has made proposals on how we can do this, and it’s the government’s job to consider these ideas.”
With 600,000 Ontarians out of work and an unemployment rate that has lagged behind the national average for 66 straight months, the government must encourage businesses to invest in the province and create jobs, Shurman continued.
“The government needs to stop treating Ontarians like children, and actually engage in the debate about updating our liquor retail system for the 21st century,” Shurman concluded. “It’s time they took action to kick-start Ontario’s economy, instead of getting in the way of economic growth.”