End the Beer Store monopoly
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Apr 29, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

End the Beer Store monopoly

Stratford Gazette

Stratford Gazette editorial

According to Brewers Retail, owners of The Beer Store, there are only two options when it comes to changing Ontario’s beer industry: continue with the way things are by allowing The Beer Store, a private company owned by foreign corporations, to continue dominating the industry; facing no competition outside of the LCBO and brewery sites, or sell booze in corner stores and gas stations, making beer widely available to minors and condemning the province to unbridled calamity and chaos.

These are the argumentative parameters the company is hoping to operate under; one where they come out looking like the lesser of two evils.

The reality is there are multiple ways Ontario’s beer industry could be modified. Imagine a chain of privately-owned food and beverage boutiques specializing in unique hors d’oeuvres and craft brews; another that carries the name brands we’re used to during evening and weekend hours we’re not; still another operating as a branch of the LCBO, a crown corporation which, unlike the Beer Store, feeds government coffers.

There are a lot of ways we can change the way we buy beer in Ontario, but one thing’s for sure: The Beer Store monopoly has to end.

Never mind the flimsy arguments that the chain keeps prices low, or polices sales to minors better, or any of the other defenses Brewers Retail is using to defend its gravy train. At this point, we need to end it on pure principle alone. A foreign-owned beer cartel with a government-enforced dominance of the market. The monopoly should’ve ended as soon as Labatts, Sleemans, and Molson were sold off.

Following Brewers Retail’s closed-door meeting with Mayor Dan Mathieson in Stratford on April 22, the company’s representatives were quick to pooh-pooh the foreign ownership angle, with Mathieson himself pointing out that chains like 7/11 are also foreign owned. Of course this is true. But if a Canadian wants to open a competing gas station across from a 7/11, they can. Not so with the Beer Store.

When it was noted that Beer Store revenue leaves the country, the reps compared the business to Walmart which, though foreign owned, invests heavily in the community; Walmart Canada, for example, donated $1 million to Stratford’s Market Square renewal project.

This comparison is also faulty, since Target,competing right across Ontario Street from Walmart, was never told by the government “Sorry! You can’t set up shop here. This is a Walmart-only province.”

Similar oblivious arguments were made when downplaying people’s use of the word “monopoly” to describe The Beer Store’s enforced lack of opposition. According to Canada’s National Brewers president Jeff Newton, Ontario is awash in sudsy competition … right there on Beer Store shelves!

There’s a reason Brewers Retail is getting hammered in the media for its latest ad campaign. The arguments are full of holes and everyone knows it. If you drank beer underage in this province, you did it with Beer Store beer. They’re the only game in town.

The continued existence of the Brewers Retail monopoly, and it is a monopoly no matter how much corporate-types dislike the negative imagery of the term, is not only inexplicable, it’s downright crooked. It may be perfectly legal, but it’s corrupt and it needs to stop.

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