While Americans down south are fighting for their gun control rights, Canadians just want better beer options up north. Despite being a nation largely known and loved for its wide variety of delicious and plentiful craft brews, the options in Ontario are actually quite limited. Not only that, but on average, Ontario residents are paying 27 percent more per case of beer than their neighbors in the province of Québec. In response to the outrage, Canadians from Ontario have created an online website and petition called Free Our Beer with the goal of opening up more options for the sale of beer and other alcohol in the province.
And it is true that while beer is the primary focus of this petition, all alcohol in Ontario is subject to sale from only one of two different retail outlets. On one hand, there is the Liquor Control board of Ontario (LCBO) that exclusively handles the sale of all alcohol and is the only option in the province to buy beverages other than beer. In fact, a study confirmed that $1.7 billion of revenue earned from Ontario alcohol sales comes from nothing but the wholesale alcohol mark-up value enforced by the LCBO. The LCBO wholesale division is actually one of the largest alcohol wholesalers in the world.
The LCBO’s wholesale model and massive buying power may not seem that unusual, until the way they conduct business is taken into account anyway. Truthfully, it is more than a little bit strange. While most wholesalers will negotiate for a lower buying price, the LCBO will actually set a standardized price range for a set of wine. Suppliers who wish to have their wine sold within the LCBO have to bid with their proposed retail price and the LCBO works backwards to arrive at their final, predetermined markup. In fact, it gets even weirder because if the suggested retail price by the supplier is too low, the LCBO requests them to raise their selling price so the LCBO can sell at their already, predetermined amount. This appears both arbitrary and contradictory to how negotiations are supposed to work.
The other option available in Ontario is a place that is aptly named, The Beer Store. While this might appear like a wonderful place to buy beer, Canadians want better options than a place that operates like it still belongs in the 1950s. Here is how it works. When a customer enters the Beer Store, one would expect to be greeted by a vast array of aromas and multi-colored brews that ensnare the imagination with the unlimited possibilities. Instead, they are greeted by a service counter where they place their order, and the sales clerk speaks the name of the requested beer into a microphone. After a few minutes of waiting, the beer is then slid out across a conveyor belt where the customer can pick it up and pay.
Unlike the LCBO, The Beer Store is not a government run operation. However, it is not a Canadian one either. In fact, is owned by not one or two, but three foreign owners. The Beer Store remains the only of the two retail outlets where customers can return their empty bottles in order to get supplementary refunds. Yes, Canadians from Ontario have the options of either lining the government’s pockets or foreign interest’s pockets but not their own when it comes to purchasing alcohol.
Of course, this creates additional problems, besides just the overpriced alcohol. What happens when it comes time for the holidays when everyone wants to purchase their booze? Well, the LCBO will be closed so Ontarians better make a mad rush to stock up on their holiday supplies while the LCBO and The Beer Store are still open. Aisles are packed and parking lots are crowded beyond comprehension. Would this not be so much simpler if Ontario citizens could only walk down to the local gas station and pick up what they need off the shelf, like their Québec and southern neighbors?
With the Free Our Beer petition, Canadians from Ontario hope they can get the better beer options that they so badly want. Signing it only takes a couple of minutes and the benefits brewed could last for generations to come.
By Jonathan Holowka