Organized Blabber

I had an interesting chat earlier this week with a couple other beer writers. They’ve been around longer than I have. They have a larger following than I do. They get invited to things I don’t.

One of the perks of being a more established beer writer is getting to attend events like LCBO tasting sessions for its new releases.

According to these writers – each of whom I have no reason to doubt – the LCBO is falling further behind each time it brings in new and (by Ontario standards) exotic labels.

Some of the fall styles, they tell me, have been in Ontario for weeks. Well that makes sense, it’s been autumn for a few weeks. The problem is these bottles still haven’t made it to the stores.

Most beer, as you probably know, doesn’t age well. In fact it can degrade fairly quick. The Amager Kåååd Spring IPA (6% ABV) that was imported from Denmark in March, yet continues to linger on several LCBO shelves… I’d be wary of that one.

Kåååd Spring IPA
Downtown LCBO locations still selling a well-travelled beer that’s sat around for eight months.

At last year’s Ontario Craft Brewer’s Conference, the head of one of the more respected Toronto-area breweries mentioned he had just taken control of his own delivery because the LCBO was doing such a poor job moving his beer. The government agency, according to many, simply can’t keep pace with industry growth.

In July, I asked the LCBO directly if it was fair to say the agency lacks the capacity to handle all the new craft beer coming to market. The response explained several ways the LCBO has supported Ontario’s craft brewers, but ducked the actual question.

I guess the Ontario Public Service Employees Union isn’t aware of these worsening conditions because it’s now suggesting the LCBO should take on more responsibility. The labour union, Wednesday, published a media release insisting the province should strip away a lucrative line of business from those small enterprises that currently sell beer and wine in markets where there is no government liquor store.

OPSEU figures the LCBO could make extra cash by expropriating the agency stores’ share of the alcohol trade, keeping the income that currently goes to private, mostly independently-owned businesses.

Related: What's Stopping Ontario's Convenience Stores from Selling Booze?

“The best way to increase the LCBO’s dividend to government without increasing the social harm caused by alcohol is to rein in the LCBO’s Agency Stores Program,” claims OPSEU Majordomo Smokey Thomas. “Contracting in of existing sales” (read: “taking back what was already given”) would bring in an additional $50 million, he says “without increasing the social costs associated with drinking.”

If the labour union is genuinely concerned about siphoning more revenue from alcohol without increasing the risk of social harm, why wouldn’t they focus their attention on the Beer Store instead? Unlike agency stores, which generally serve a population that lives nowhere near LCBO shops, the Beer Store is often located quite close to government real estate. Taking away the Beer Store’s licence to sell would give the LCBO a near-monopoly on urban beer sales in Ontario.  Just imagine the earnings.

Hey, it might even save a few kids. OPSEU also figures “the LCBO model of public ownership is still the best way to minimize the net cost to society of alcohol.” Why it thinks that, I don’t know. It’s not stated in the release, nor does it stand up to unbiased surveys of other jurisdictions. Fact is though, the not-publicly-owned Beer Store has more locations than the agency stores, so by some Smokey kind of logic they’re probably doing more harm.

I’m not saying I believe the government should shutter the Beer Store, just that it’s a more logical target for this seemingly altruistic group. But of course the Beer Store is unionized, so there’s that.

Let’s be clear, what OPSEU wants is fewer outlets that demonstrate how well the non-unionized workforce retails alcohol. More convenience and accountable customer service – these are what OPSEU does not want you to experience. Its motives are so thinly veiled they’re pornographic.

This is the same organization – speaking of matters indecent – that successfully overturned the dismissal of six employees for using government computers to surf and spread porn. That happened while I was a member of the OPS, so you see why it’s really fucking difficult for me to take my former dues collector’s social conscience seriously.

OPSEU chose to attack small business. It did so while proposing more tasks for an organization that continues to fall behind, despite its remarkable advantage in dictating market conditions. The union’s position on stripping revenue from small town employers while claiming moral high ground is as absurd as it is pathetic. If Smokey and Co. can’t be useful in the ongoing discussion of alcohol sales in Ontario, they could at least be honest about their motives.

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