It’s Liquor, Folks, Not Contraband

Frontier Centre, Manitoba, Regulation, Role of Government, Taxation, Uncategorized, Worth A Look

In most civilized parts of the world you can buy your groceries and your liquor in the same place.

I’ve bought a beer and a chocolate bar in a 7-Eleven in Japan. I’ve purchased wine at the Publix grocery chain in Daytona Beach. I’ve even picked up a bargain bottle of scotch at a convenience store in the Deep South.

Leaving aside the lasting effects on my liver and the free admission that the consumption of alcohol doesn’t make all of us wittier and more fun to be with, why are we so backwater in our approach to the sale of liquor?

Would we really all go to hell in a handcart if the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission dropped the “control” part of its name?

We’ll get to the millions in taxes paid by the MLCC to the provincial government shortly.

First, here’s a quick look at how buying booze has changed in my lifetime.

When I was a wee one, my dad and I would run Saturday errands together. We’d stop at Pollock’s Hardware for a gossip and a look around, drive over to Neptune Fisheries for a chinwag and some goldeye and, often enough, end up at the Main and Jefferson LC.

There were no bottles on display, no one offering free communion-sized samples of new wines and no Jell-O shots perched by the checkouts.

If you wanted a bottle, you had to take a stubby pencil and fill out an order slip. You took it to one of the men standing behind the wooden counter. He’d look you over, disappear into a backroom and reappear with your package.

It seemed furtive and almost forbidden.

Fast-forward to modern life. My liquor store does everything but hold hot tub parties to attract customers. It’s obvious progress is possible without perdition.

The MLCC does a bang-up job of educating the public on the hazards of drinking during pregnancy, the idiocy of drinking and driving and the legal responsibility of ensuring that anyone who buys booze is over 18.

Why can’t private enterprise offer the same social and legal measures?

That’s a rhetorical question. When the private wine store battle was won in Manitoba more than a decade ago, depravity did not rule the streets.

The benefit to consumers was immediate. Even though government price-fixing prevents the private stores from dropping the price on hundreds of wines also available at the liquor commission, the stores can competitively price the wines you can’t buy from the province.

Life — and our social welfare programs — have somehow gone on. Now, back to the tax-dollar argument.

In an opinion piece that ran in this newspaper last fall, MLCC president and CEO Don Lussier said the taxes collected on the sale of booze are “used to help fund Manitoba’s health care, education, social services and community support system.”

True.

It’s also true that this province’s runaway love affair with gambling revenues must have offset some of its suckling dependence on gas taxes, liquor taxes and cigarette taxes.

But this is about more than using sin taxes to fund social programs. There’s nothing to stop the province from collecting a share of your beer money while still allowing you to shop at your own convenience.

If wine, beer and spirits were found between the lawn mower and clothing aisles at Superstore, would we really be in moral or financial trouble?

Not a chance.

Carrie Nation may be spinning in her grave now but it’s time we stopped treating a legally sold product that should only be used by responsible adults like it was heroin.

It’s not up to the MLCC to change the Liquor Act. That’s the role of the provincial government, the same institution that benefits from the sale of hooch.

The argument may be made that the Liquor Mart doesn’t offer discount prices on bananas and toilet paper so the grocery stores shouldn’t be selling Chablis and pot roasts.

I don’t buy it.

If we want to buy our Jim Beam and our Slim Jims in the same store, where’s the problem? Are we just so accustomed to having our government hold our hands and wipe our noses that we can’t imagine things any other way?