A Few More Limits In Ontario’s Beer Reform

I am increasingly finding myself far more disinterested in the current reforms of the beer distribution system in Ontario than I am annoyed by them. They seem to be geared to offer little that I expect to alter my shopping experience. But last week there were a couple of hints as to what is going on behind the closed process of government and industry negotiations that are worth noting if only for their entertainment value:

=> First, last Thursday Ben Johnson posted a great interview with the provincial Finance Minister in which he learned “the LCBO will roll out “craft beer zones” to 25 other LCBO locations across Ontario. Similar to the LCBO vintages section, these craft beer zones will feature and highlight craft beer made in Ontario.” It would be similar if there weren’t more than 300 Vintages locations in Ontario. Oddly, 20 years ago, the vintages section carried good beer, mainly imports but some local micros, too.

=> Second, Toronto’s Metro confirmed that there will be annual limits to the works out to the equivalent of 279 six-packs — or about 70 cases of beer — sold daily per store… and also “unspecified penalties for retailers who try to sell more than their allocation”!! I think I mentioned this before but it’s nice to see that it was not just my bad math. So… what does this mean? On a hot Friday in late July does the grocer cut off sales at 2 pm because the daily, weekly or monthly quota was reached?

These weird revelations are in addition to the numbers we have so far that indicate my city of 122,000 people will be lucky to get two of the new grocery store permits. More weirdness that remind me of something I came across some years ago now. Amongst my cult classic publications, I contributed the chapter “Beer and Autonomy” to the book Beer & Philosophy published in 2007. I opened the chapter with a quote from Pete Brown: “more than climate or genetics or anything else, drinking behaviour is governed by culture. And that culture is created by the laws that govern it.” Looking at that now I quibble with one word. Created. I would think now that the culture is expressed by the laws that govern it. I concluded the chapter with the thought that the beer laws of Canada ought to lead one to question the vision the state has of its own citizenry.

The more I read and write about Ontario in particular I find myself wondering if might be better off questioning the vision the citizenry has of itself. These “reforms” are, yes, a bit more than shuffling the deck chairs but are so restricted that they must be messaging something related to cultural identity. Jordan has expressed measured optimism but I can’t shake the feeling that we are dealing with a set of business and political interests that, in the words of one economic development officer spoken years ago in another province, is based on the principle “we pick the winners.” Because the marketplace can’t be trusted to pick the right winners. Because Ontarians can’t be trusted and may not even trust themselves.

One thought on “A Few More Limits In Ontario’s Beer Reform”

  1. [Original comments…]

    Alex – September 19, 2015 7:22 PM
    A hard limit would be terrible, as grocers would have no incentive to diversify their offerings if they can sell 279 six-packs of Labatt a day. Fortunately the government clarified yesterday that beyond that limit grocers will simply pay an additional 1% tax.

    Seems like a policy that affords some protection to current retailers, while conveniently filling the public coffers, then. They’ve also recently stated that independent grocers will get a fair chance at these licenses. I’m becoming more optimistic that these reforms will end up increasing my choices as a consumer, at least for those in bigger cities.

    Alan – September 19, 2015 7:31 PM
    Good stuff. What a silly thing, then, to have it referred to as a penalty. It’s just a scaled fee. Once the distribution costs are paid for under that level, the marginal expanse savings will more than offset any 1% tax increase.

    Alan – September 21, 2015 7:42 AM
    Hmm… the Star says the quota is stupid. The CBC buys the “don’t worry – be happy” argument.

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