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Doug Ford’s alcohol politics an insult to Ontarians

Promoting the expansion of alcohol consumption above all else reflects the contempt Ford has for voters

Canadian PoliticsEconomic CrisisLabour

An LCBO outlet situated at the Parkway Mall complex in Scarborough. Photo by Xander Wu/Wikimedia Commons.

Throughout Doug Ford’s provincial political career, there has been one constant: an unmatched love for policies concerning alcohol. The Ontario premier’s only conception of his voter base is that of people whose main priority is alcohol. Ford’s obsession with freeing up the market for booze sales is not only dangerous, but also insulting to the average Ontarian.

Ford’s 2018 campaign for the premiership was a complete farce. One of his only tangible promises was to bring “buck-a-beer” to the province. In an announcement dripping with populist rhetoric, Ford said, “For too long beer consumers have been forced to pay inflated prices for beer in order to increase the profits of big corporations.”

Putting people first was not a priority in any other facet of the campaign. After promising a fully-costed platform for weeks leading up to the election, all that was released was a list of campaign promises with no financial details. So much for accountability to the voter base.

In many ways, the 2018 election was the Liberals’ and Kathleen Wynne’s to lose, rather than Ford and the PCs’ to win. Wynne had rightfully lost the trust of Ontarians due to her government’s multiple scandals, leading to the utter destruction of the Ontario Liberal Party, which was reduced to seven seats, and handed the PCs a majority government. For Ford, however, this win was a sign that his shallow booze politics were a winner with voters.

Buck-a-beer, of course, quickly became a complete bust. The only change in legislation was that Ford lowered the minimum price of beer to $1.00 (down 25 cents from the previous price). At the time, craft breweries weren’t in a financial position to lower their prices, only three breweries used the program, and Loblaws pulled out after a week. It was later revealed in a 2020 interview with a craft beer expert at CBC News that beer prices actually rose 10 percent after the policy. All in all, Ford’s landmark election promise went down as smoothly as a one-buck beer.

But facts never get in the way of a politician’s commitment to neoliberalism and right-wing populism. Ford continued to make greater access to alcohol a regular feature of his rhetoric, including some remarks on drinking in public parks. The latest brazen commitment to alcohol policies came earlier this year, when Ford announced his government would make sure alcohol is sold in convenience stores by late summer 2024, fast-tracking a previous plan to have alcohol sales in convenience stores by 2026.

The move was framed as focusing on “choice and convenience,” for consumers, but materially translates into a terrible investment for public tax dollars. As a part of the deal, the Beer Store, a private corporation, will receive $225 million in exchange for keeping 300 locations open until the end of 2025, a commitment of just over a year. On top of this, the LCBO projects it will lose $150 million in revenue as a result, while the Ontario government could lose up to $1 billion. LCBO union workers recently authorized a strike vote with 97 percent approval in response to Ford’s dim-witted deal. Union President Coleen MacLeod explained the vote by saying the move will necessarily lead to store closures. Since the strike vote, talks have broken down, and LCBO workers are now on strike as a direct result of Ford’s latest beer politics.

It’s no accident that Ford’s alcohol policies reflect his overall approach to governing. Ford is a cut-and-dried neoliberal. Taking money from public utilities and funneling them into private coffers is his modus operandi, fuelling every high-profile scandal in recent years. Some prime examples of Ford putting the free market ahead of the well-being of Ontarians are the decision to use taxpayers’ money to retrofit Staples and Walmart stores with Service Ontario kiosks and the closing down of Service Ontario locations in order to pay private owners’ bills.

Neoliberal policies have reduced Ontario to its current dismal state, and Ford has been leading the charge since 2018. In 2023, emergency rooms closed nearly 1,200 times while the PCs push private health clinics. Ford spent millions fighting in court for the unconstitutional Bill 124, his bid to cap public sector wages. The government is counting long-term care beds as housing to meet its targets. For Ford, the goal of raising corporate profits trumps the well-being of Ontario citizens every time.

Promoting the expansion of alcohol consumption above all else reflects the contempt Ford has for voters. But nothing reveals that contempt more than crumbling health care, stagnating housing and the transfer of public money to corporate coffers.

Scott Martin is an independent political journalist who has written for the Toronto Star, Ricochet, Rabble and many other outlets. He publishes The Catch, a left newsletter with an anti-capitalist perspective on Canadian news.

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