We must never forget
December 6, 2012
Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is trying to redefine
Ontario with his recent attack on the LCBO
and proposal to privatize it. Hudak claims Ontario
has grown up. He says we are all now adults that can keep tabs on our own
drinking. A lot less government involvement is best, in his view. After all, our
booze laws were a reaction to prohibition. Hudak
links the LCBO to Elliot Ness, Al Capone and those tight Temperance League
people. Let’s say good-bye to the LCBO (an agency built and refined by past
Conservative, Liberal and NDP provincial governments). With a
Hudak government in place good times are just around
misrepresentation of reality! Let’s clearly set out the historic context and
reasons why the LCBO has become the
respected global leader in the retail sales of spirits, wines and beer.
the LCBO was established in 1927, Ontario had come through times that were
marked by the effects of privately sold alcohol. It was made possible by a huge
public outcry against private sales.
Let’s take a close look at that history and context.
Canada Temperance Act
was passed in 1878. It provided an option for municipalities to end
sale of alcohol, by plebiscite, to a prohibitionist scheme. A
federal referendum on prohibition
was held in 1898 with 51.3 per cent voting for prohibition and 48.7 per cent
voting against, on a voter turnout of 44 per cent. Prohibition had a significant
majority in all
which voted against.
No general legislation was enacted as a result.
without federal government action, in response to public pressure against
private liquor sales,
Ontario passed a prohibition law in 1916. Alcohol use was widespread. During that period
the elimination of alcoholic beverages made a difference. Jails emptied, since
alcoholic-related offences had contributed to their large populations.
Statistics indicated that by 1922 the number of convictions for offences
associated with alcohol had declined
from 17,413 in 1914 to 5,413 in 1921. Drunkenness cases dropped from 16,590 in
1915 to 6,766 in 1921.
Liquor Control Board of Ontario was established to enforce the
of alcohol sales. It was to assure sales in a controlled manner, regulated by
society rather than by the private
The LCBO was based
on experiences drawn from everyday life. In the early 1900s,
alcohol vendors located their carts near factories on paydays to
provide quick access to workmen heading home with their “pay–packets.” Poverty,
illness and the abuse to women and children was often
the result of this boozed-up free-for-all. With few legal rights, women and
children were left defenseless. Health problems also arose. Distilling alcohol
is not simple so products could contain impurities causing blindness and brain
This all took place
during a period of huge societal change. With industrialization, people migrated
from farms to cities. Women were a large part of this trend as urban work became
available and mechanization reduced farm work. In the United States, the civil
war had taken place resulting in emancipation. Expanded voting rights were being
discussed everywhere. Women, though, were still prohibited from voting. .
In response, women
pushed for legal protections and rights. Many
focused on their disenfranchisement and the
lack of regulation over alcohol sales. Their demands included better public
criminalization of men who physically punished their wives, and access to birth
control. They felt legal protection in
these areas would “protect family life”. The movements were church-based as
women could easily gather at places of worship.
Women mobilized in
large numbers. When arriving in cities, at railway stations or
at carriage stops, women would seek out
others wearing white ribbons. These “white ribbon women” helped their sisters by
providing safe housing and job references with a strong political message. From
these safe places women could seek clerical, domestic or home care work.
A card frequently
circulated to impart their political message (using vocabulary safely within the
sensibilities and values of the time) pictured strong and virtuous women
surrounded by four men. One man was aboriginal while another was behind bars in
a striped prisoner’s uniform. Another was pictured with a mental disability and
the final man was illustrated inside a mental asylum. The card simply read:
THE POLITICAL EQUIVALENTS OF WOMEN. That’s because these men, along with
the woman, could not vote.
featured a lighthouse sitting on a stormy shoreline. It read: BETTER TO BUILD
A LIGHTHOUSE THAN TO STEER A LIFEBOAT. This message was directed at the need
to pass liquor laws that would prevent abuse and domestic violence.
their agenda vigorously and successfully. Their efforts resulted in laws that
provided the right to vote and guidelines on the liquor trade. In Ontario,
legislative restrictions to private liquor sales were put into law within a year
of the enfranchisement of women (1916 and 1917 respectively).
The changes in
Ontario from 1916 through 1927 led, over the decades, to our current system.
Ontario had learned valuable social and legal lessons from its experience with
the untrammeled ‘right’ of the private sector to peddle alcohol sales on its own
terms. The public good had prevailed over commercial interests.
to be sold at “government stores.”
advertising and signage would be restricted.
would apply to the age at which alcohol could be consumed.
locations would be regulated and operated by government for the common good.
Profits would go to fund public services and make up for the costs arising from
quality standards the LCBO would operate a laboratory to test the products it
have good selection and prices, based on the size and buying power of the public
employees would be professional, balancing service with social responsibility.
Today, in late
2012, Hudak is trying to turn back the clock. Let’s
recall the history that links limits to liquor sales with the hard-fought rights
of women. Let’s see the LCBO for what it rightfully is: a successful
publicly-owned, commercial institution that balances
alcohol use and society’s call for social responsibility.
We have a choice.
Do we want to live in a province where we have effective and respected control
over alcohol consumption through the LCBO? Or, do we just want to pay the cost
of alcohol abuse through additional personal pain, taxes and tragedies all the
while leaving it to the private sector to reap the profits?
Let’s think hard
about the Hudak attack on the LCBO and his scheme to
hand over a public enterprise to the private sector. The more people think about
privatization, the less they like it.