Sunday, July 24, 2011

Canadian Beer Rant

I've never been a fan of having government sell alcohol – not when I lived in Pennsylvania, where the state government operated liquor stores through the PLCB, and not now that I live in Ontario where the province does the same through the LCBO. Aside from believing in the open market and in regulation that stops well short of total control, I wonder how healthy it is for the government to be selling alcohol. I'm no teetotaler, but I have a problem with the government's vested interest in marketing an addictive substance.

Now the Canadian government has come up with a new way to promote its wares. It's part of their "Beer Selector", and it's accessible here. Click on "My Beer Personality", and answer questions like, "At a party, you (a) kick your feet up, (b) always host, (c) work the room, or (d) make the toasts" and "What nickname would best describe you (a) Maxo Relaxo, (b) Fussy Gus, (c) Courageous Cat, or (d) Captain Awesome". Then the program diagnoses your needs and offers a selection of beers, available at your LCBO store.

What is the goal here? Is it that there are a lot of frustrated beer drinkers across Canada, people who are not feeling satisfied with their alcoholic beverages because those drinks are just not suited for their personalities?

According to a 2010 study by StatsCanada (the official government statistics-collecting arm), the prevalence of past-year alcohol use among Canadians 15 years and olderwas 77.0%. Among "youth", 71.5% reported consuming alcohol in the past year.

The good news: This is a decrease from 2004, when "82.9% of youth reported past-year use of alcohol."

More, "the prevalence of heavy frequent drinking among youth 15 to 24 years of age, was approximately three times higher than the rate for adults 25 years and older (9.4% versus 3.3%)."

So maybe the government decided that the heavy drinking was a result of not finding the right beer? Is this a case of Canadian Big Government stepping in to help its young citizens live better lives?

I think not. I think the goal is to make beer drinkers out of the apparently small minority who are not currently beer drinkers.

"What, you don't drink beer? Come on, this would be good for you. You'll love it! It's so you - look, it suits you, Maxo Relaxo!"

I don't want elected officials spending their time and my taxes trying to make me a beer drinker. I don't care how patriotic it is to drink beer in Canada, and I don't care how much money you can take from the private sector by having government sell liquor – go back to work on things like making healthcare affordable.


  1. First of all, anything the government can make money off of it will. That's why Premier Dad in Ontario has introduced sooooo many safety laws but hasn't removed cigarettes from the market.
    Secondly, the LCBO's new beer jingle is catchy, you gotta admit.
    Remember that each type of alcohol has its imgage and beer's image is "fun". As opposed to wine snobs sipping on a chianti or two lovers quaffing brandy slowly, beer is associated with bars, rock music, dancing and ourdoor parties. This campaign is simply trying to ride that image and get people interested in the various beers at the LCBO they may not be aware of.
    Word of warning: Avoid the "kosher beer" called HeBrew (I kid you not). Nasty stuff.

  2. when I visit my in-laws in Canada for sukkot, I have sometimes gone to the LCBO to purchase some beer and been appalled at the (lack of) selection. So I started bringing my own beer from home to enjoy after dinner in the sukka. against the stereotype for me to have to bring beer from the US to Canada, but that's what happens.

  3. Garnel-
    I have a hard time telling good beer from bad, for the most part. I had HeBrew several years ago, and it didn't seem any worse than Bud Lite.

    I'm told The Beer Store has a better selection, which would avoid having to go through declaring alcohol at the border...

  4. How the times have changed.

    I remember when buying liquor at the LCBO involved filling out a paper form, handing it to the clerk who called the back stock room to bring it out in a brown wrapper. You felt like you were involved in some sort of illegal/immoral activity. And it was like that because the government only begrudgingly allowed you to buy the hooch (attitudes hadn't changed much since temperance days in Ontario).

    But then - about 30 years ago - the government realized that they were making piles and piles of money from taxes from selling booze (colloquially called a "sin tax"). But there was so much more to be made! So let's do some marketing! Let's make the stores appealing with the stock right there in front of you! Let's run glossy ads in the papers! (Note that LCBO paid $1.4 billion in dividends to the Ontario government last year and had a 49% profit margin). They try to justify the monopoly by claiming that it's more responsible in it's liquor sales, screening out minors, for example, than a for profit private store would be. There have been some cracks over the years, such as allowing private wine stores (eg. Simcha Wines, Grafsteins). These weren't allowed before.

    Exactly the same happened with Lotteries. When my father grew up in Toronto in the 1930s, lotteries were illegal. Buying and selling Irish sweepstakes tickets could get you into a whole lot of trouble with the law. And if you won, claiming the money would put today's money laundering schemes to shame. But the government needed to pay for the huge 1976 Olympic deficit. So they ran the first legal lottery, and hey, it made lots of money. So the government jumped into it with both feet and now we have lotteries galore.

    What I'm getting at is the initially the governments took moralistic approaches to liquor and lotteries - "booze and gambling is immoral". But once they saw they could make huge dollars from it - the sky's the limit.

    So I agree that there should be competition in liquor sales and that would drive prices down, but the government will easily not turn it's back on $1.4b. They flirted with selling the LCBO a few times, but realized that they'd make more more continuing to tax us.

    And that's my "liquor rant".