Straight Talk
JOE WARMINGTON - Time for LCBO robbery to end

Tim Hudak makes LCBO announcement plan to privatize in Toronto's Liberty Village Tuesday December 4, 2012.

Credits: CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI AGENCY

JOE WARMINGTON | QMI AGENCY

A 750-ml bottle of Crown Royal at Outlet Liquor in Buffalo is $17.

In the LCBO it's $27.95.

With the Canadian and American dollars at par it's almost an $11 difference in price.

It's a similar story for Canadian Club whisky or Bacardi or Appleton rums, too.

At the gas station, across the street from this popular liquor store near the Walden Galleria Mall, you can get can 18-pack of beer for $18 - about half of what it would cost here.

You can see why the Ontario government wants to own the booze business and why there's a movement get their filthy fingers off it.

When Tim Hudak talked Tuesday about plans to privatize the LCBO if he gains power, he said he wouldn't lower the outrageous taxes tied to liquor sales. That's a mistake.

It's the first thing Hudak should do.

The gouging of LCBO's trapped customers is obscene.

The markup on many bottles of hooch starts at 400%. For example, a 750 ml bottle of rye, rum, gin, scotch or vodka starts out costing the LCBO about $5.52 - which is in essence the distillers' delivery, production and profit right there.

Then comes in the federal excise which adds $3.51 to each bottle. There is a $12.72 in LCBO mark-up, followed by a 29¢ bottle and a 9¢ environmental levy.

Add in $2.88 in HST and you get the extra cost per unit.

In some cases it's even worse.

A bottle of Absolut vodka is $15 less in Buffalo and a premium bottle of Silver Patron tequila is $34 less.

And there is no one in regulative authority stepping in saying ‘Hey, wait a minute - you can't treat citizens like that."

It must be because somebody has pay for the public sector $100,000-a-year sunshine list - which, by the way, had more than 250 LCBO employees on it last year.

There were no corner store workers on there. And gangsters like Al Capone wouldn't have stuck it to their customers so badly because their operations were not monopolies.

But it's not just the pricing. In the United States, they compete. Stores are open late and seven days a week - and there are many convenient locations.

For beer, you can go to Walmart, a grocery outlet or a corner store.

"It works pretty well," said Outlet Liquor owner Rich Larroque. "We get many Canadians coming in."

His prices come out of competing and the fact that the government does not have as much of a lock on his business.

"There are strict regulations (in New York State) for sure but I am in business for myself," he said.

His is a fun, party-atmosphere type store with a contest motorcycle on display and lots of smiling sales people who are not off on statutory holidays.

They're working so the customers can get what they need for their day off.

In Ontario, it's a socialist model where there's no business partner, except for, of course, the government.

Rigid. Bureaucratic.

"The LCBO system was created in 1927 - the year Charles Lindberg crossed the Atlantic," PC Leader Tim Hudak said Tuesday in pitching the idea of privatizing this $1-billion business. "It's time for some tough choices on getting out of businesses Queen's Park has no business being in."

It won't be easy. Ontario management is embarrassingly addicted to booze, tobacco and gambling profits and the highly paid public sector won't give up their stake in it easily.

Nor will they share with the ma and pa business person, or with the fine Ontario distillers or wineries, either.

The nanny state thinks it needs government workers to sell booze - yet small businesses collect billions in revenue from taxes, cigarettes and lottery tickets for governments to waste.

It's going to make for a great election debate where Ontarians will have the choice.

"It's time to challenge why the government needs to run businesses that distract its focus from core services we all value, like health care, education and infrastructure," said Hudak's release. "Let's join our neighbours in treating people like adults."

And let's also stop the legal rum-runners from ripping us off, too.

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