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When it comes to booze, Competition Bureau is in way over its head: OPSEU President


Toronto – OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas issued the following statement on Friday in response to recent comments by the Competition Bureau Canada about privatizing sales of alcohol in Ontario:

Canada’s Competition Bureau thinks more privatized alcohol sales are better. But when it comes to thinking about what’s best for Ontario, the Bureau could use a little competition of its own. Luckily, OPSEU is here to help.

Canada’s Competition Bureau serves a specific purpose. Its mandate is to ensure firms aren’t engaged in price-fixing or law-breaking. Think banks, cable, cell phones and airlines when judging their commitment to Canadian consumers. Now apply that track record to their myopic position on private alcohol sales in Ontario and ask yourself this question: does the Competition Bureau inherently favour corporate profits over public good?

When it comes to keeping our kids and communities safe, the evidence shows that the public retail model is best. The public system balances convenience and public safety and keeps controlled substances out of the hands of our youth.

When the Bureau recently endorsed Ford’s privatization plan, they didn’t mention the downsides, like increased public health care costs.

When it talks about more “price competition” it doesn’t mention that this just means more opportunities for corporations to profit, while our government loses revenue. 

But we’re not fooled – as if the price of booze would ever go down because of privatization. Adding more profit-driven players to the game doesn’t drive down costs, it just ups their margins.

Privatization means that Canada’s corporate elite – like Galen Weston or his U.S. counterpart, the Walton family – will get a bigger cut of the cake, and less of the profits will go back into the public coffers to pay for things like hospitals, schools and highways.

The LCBO is a crown jewel of an asset, which brings in more than $2 billion in profits annually. That money pays for schools, roads and our health care. Why?

Because we own it. And when licensees like bars and restaurants buy from the LCBO at consumer-level retail price, that money comes back to us too.

The Bureau says that without competition, prices are inflated. But the evidence from other jurisdictions, such as Alberta and Washington State, shows that privatized alcohol sales actually lead to higher prices.

The Bureau also argues – without citing any evidence – that competition breeds greater choice. But a simple comparison shows that the LCBO provides a similar selection of products to most other provinces.

Talk about inventing a problem to justify privatization.

No one should be buying the Bureau’s baloney. When has there ever been more product choice or discounts in a corner store? Most are part of big chains like Esso or Circle K, which dominate the market and carry the most generic and widely-sold products at inflated prices. 

Big box, grocery and corners stores are hardly the avenue to support smaller, local brands and craft brewers. There’s no “craft” anything at your local gas station and the suggestion that alcohol would be any different is ridiculous.

This isn’t about lower costs or greater product choice. But it is about choice.

It’s about choosing a public model that works for the people, or a privatized model that works for big business. And when organizations like the Competition Bureau weigh in, it’s clear that they’ve got Canada’s corporate interests at heart, not the public good.

So when it comes to what’s best for Ontario, let’s trust the model that’s tried, tested and true; let’s trust the public retail model. It’s the model for the people because we own it.

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931.