Tim Hudak, the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, suggests we take a look at privatizing liquor sales and gambling in Ontario. So, is this just another political bait and switch scheme or does he really intend to follow through and incorporate this into a future Tory election platform?
Readers, if you’re waiting for privatization, don’t hold your breath.
The last time a PC government sold off a key government asset was the sale of Highway 407, which was sold in 1999 in what I’d categorize as more of a give-away—I bet my 15-year-old granddaughter could have cut a better deal.
Furthermore, we’ve had other politicians promise privatisation of our “sin” industries, but never carried through with the measure. It seems to me, also, that Tim Hudak has been opposed to privatizing the LCBO in the past. And remember that the Dalton McGuinty Liberals ran against privatization in the 2003 and 2007 elections, yet reversed themselves and were ready to do just that in 2010, before changing their minds once more.
The way I see it, offering to privatize liquor sales and gambling is one of those bright shiny objects politicians hold up to catch the attention of the media and grab some space in the day’s headlines. It’s one of those cynical games politicians never seem to tire of playing.
Mind you, I believe it would be a good thing to privatize liquor sales and gambling. For one thing, governments should never be engaged in commerce, especially in mature industries where there is every expectation that private operators could do as good or better job. Moreover, the so-called “sin industries” are the very last ones in which I want my government involved, let alone monopolizing.
The LCBO and our “gaming” corporation exist primarily as feather beds for public-sector and other union workers and little more. Just another way to help keep the labour unions on-side for the next election campaign.
Income received from these government agencies could just as well be approximated from taxes on privately operated, government regulated enterprises.
The fact that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. (OLG) is government owned did not stop corrupt practices, nor should we have expected that it would.
Both the OLG and the current Grit government understand the private sector can do a better job. Recently Finance Minister Dwight Duncan was quoted as saying that the Liberal government is “already privatizing the OLG”. And OLG spokesman Tony Bitonti said recently:
OLG is expanding the engagement of the private sector to build and run day-to-day operations of existing and new sites, as well as develop new technology and games for lottery terminals.”
I say get out of gambling and booze altogether. And not because of ideology or money but because of principle—it is, after all, the right thing to do. Remember, monopolies are the enemies of private enterprise and consumers, no matter who owns them.
By the way, Alberta successfully privatized liquor retailing, warehousing and distribution in 1993. Here’s a current quote from an Alberta government Web site:
…private liquor retailing has been remarkably well received by consumers and everyone involved in the liquor industry and continues to meet the original objectives set out by the government.”
Those who claim the LCBO being in government hands, of itself, helps prevent alcohol abuse or use by minors are misguided or are being disingenuous. Spend a Friday or Saturday evening in any urban centre in Ontario without wilful blindness, and that myth will soon be dispelled.
Privatize, regulate and tax, that’s the ticket.