Make drinking illegal? What was that all about?

Hhhhhh, a lovely and exciting topic: prohibition. Ever wonder why Canada’s liquor system is so tightly controlled and bureaucratic? Ever wonder why in some provinces you can’t just grab your groceries and a bottle of wine in the same store? Ever wonder why it’s so hard to get your hands on unique, small production wines? The answer: Prohibition.

To me, Prohibition is an ugly word. Banning the consumption of alcohol is an unfathomable concept. Can you believe that it actually passed a national referendum in 1898, receiving 51.3 percent for and 48.7 percent against prohibition on a voter turnout of 44 percent? Prohibition had a majority in all provinces except Quebec, where a strong 81.1 percent voted against it. I hope they were proud!

Now, I completely understand that it was a different time and that I can’t relate at all, but the effects are still being felt today. In the 1920’s most provinces repealed the prohibition. The repeal however, with pressure from “temperance” advocates, was quite restrictive and lead to government liquor boards such as the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) and similar institutions in each province.

In my opinion, what we see as a result is an unnecessarily restrictive, confusing and bureaucratic system in Canada. Alberta and Quebec, amongst others, have made great strides to release the “grip” on liquor trade and sale in Canada. They experience some great conveniences that other provinces only dream about. Everyone in Ontario has had the experience of trying to rush to the LCBO before it closes at 9:00pm, and I don’t even want to mention holidays. Or take BC, where it’s “semi-private”. Basically, you pay higher prices for the same product at private stores – with the advantage of it being refrigerated (most BC Liquor Stores don’t have refrigeration at all). At least wine stores can purchase unique products from the agents willing to take the risk of bringing them in instead of more lucrative products that could sell in the government stores. In general, liquor prices are insane in BC and in fairness, LBCO has some pretty solid pricing compared to other provinces. Compared to other countries however, Canada’s prices overall are REALLY, REALLY high. Ever bought a six pack of bud in the states?

I’m not placing the blame here, but I most definitely think that Canadians should start demanding some changes. Small ones would suffice to start:

  1. Some consistency amongst provinces. Find a way to work together, and allow the flow of alcohol across provincial boundaries and even out the prices. After all, we are the same country here.
  2. Free marketplace or fair pricing. Alberta has is right here. Control the import and export of the alcohol, but allow a free marketplace for the sale of it. Make the tax income but loosen the grip.
  3. Make it easier for wineries and international liquor producers to sell in Canada. Trust me, in our work talking directly with wineries, we see a lot of resistance in a desire to sell in Canada. It’s just far too difficult and bureaucratic.

This is my opinion. I do also realize that there are two sides to every story. What are your thoughts?