Tim Hudak has “big fish to fry.” The PC Party leader chose that pungent analogy to explain why fixing Ontario’s alcohol distribution system is no longer part of his campaign. It’s just a guppy compared to sturgeon like creating a million new jobs while chopping a hundred thousand public service positions.
The Niagara MPP comes from the Mike Harris days, having first been elected in the 1990s, championing the Common Sense Revolution. Now it seems Hudak is still revolting, but good luck finding the common sense.
Much of the Harris government’s inspiration came from the success of the Alberta Conservative juggernaut led by Ralph Klein. If Hudak truly wants to trim the public service while creating new jobs, there’s no more obvious place to look.
The Klein government shuttered its government liquor depots 20 years ago, erasing 208 stores full of civil servants from its books. According to the 1993 Alberta Liquor Control Board annual report, the province also had 530 hotels providing off-sales, and 65 private retailers. In total, that’s 803 total liquor retailers.
Fast-forward to 2014. Wild Rose Country now boasts approximately 2,000 liquor retailers, all private. That’s a whole lot of new job creation, without cuts to programs and services. That’s new income tax, business tax and property tax. That’s 200+ capital assets the government could sell off or put to better use.
It’s also an increase in alcohol-related revenue. Over the past two decades, the Alberta government’s take rose from $405-million to $729-million; an 80% increase.Related: Beer Goggles for Everyone!Related: Bringing Ontario Up-To-Date
The other upside to allowing intoxicants to be sold closer to where people live, according to the Alberta experience, is the dramatic decline in booze-related traffic injuries. Despite adding 50% more citizens to Canada’s fourth largest province, the overall number of casualty collisions where alcohol was a factor dropped from 1,699 in 1993, to 980 by 2010 (the most recent stats made available, shown below). No matter what your personal feelings towards Alberta’s long-serving ex-Premier, his move to privatize liquor sales was an unqualified success.
After resigning from provincial politics last year, former (Liberal) Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan revealed even a partial sale of the LCBO could net the province billions of dollars right away, without diminishing long term revenues. According to the LCBO’s own stats, a full closure would also take 7,500 non-essential public servants off the government payroll.
The fact is, Hudak could easily make good on his promise to repair Ontario’s broken liquor distribution system, and to do so would actually add fuel to his big fry up. Instead he’s the one flip-flopping like a trapped fish, struggling to stay out of the fire.