In a recent op-ed for the Toronto Star, the President and CEO of the Association of Canadian Distillers argued that the Ontario government’s plan to slightly liberalize the sale of alcohol in the province would “kill” Canadian whisky companies.
The problem, says Jan Westcott, is that selling beer and wine in grocery stores would give these products an unfair advantage over spirits. This unfair advantage means fewer people would drink hard alcohol.
He comes to this conclusion because “we have seen it happen in Quebec” when it started allowing the sale of booze outside of the government monopoly.
Well, not exactly.
The SAQ, Quebec’s alcohol overlord, began allowing wines on private shelves in 1978. In the previous year, Quebecers drank 9.2 litres of wine per capita, according to Statistics Canada. By 2013, that number reached 23.4 litres, a 154% increase. In the same time, spirit sales went from 6.9 litres per capita to 4.2, a 39% decrease.
Wine drinking in Ontario during that same period passed from 8.2 litres to 15 litres per capita, an 83% increase; and spirits decreased from 11.5 to 7.9, a 31% drop.
So while Westcott’s argument that the consumption of spirits did indeed drop in Quebec is correct, it dropped at a similar rate in Ontario as well, making his point moot (for those keeping tabs, beer drinking fell dramatically in both provinces). In terms of hard liquor, the two provinces follow a nationwide trend of drinking fewer spirits in favour of the grape. While both provinces drank more wine, Quebec’s rate increased at a much larger level. That should be attributed to cultural factors – including French influence – rather than more access, especially since the stuff sold outside the SAQ is generally considered undrinkable. What’s Ontario’s reason?
Statistics aside, Westcott’s argument that the new rules would present an unfair advantage is indeed true, but his conclusion is overly defeatist. Rather than lobbying for greater freedom in the market and pushing the privatization of alcohol sales further than what Premier Wynne is willing to, Westcott concludes by saying that “hurting Ontario distillers to advantage foreign beer companies is a bad idea”.
A bad idea? The distilling industry will definitely not be helped by the status quo, where their percentage of the market share will continue to progressively shrink. The changes proposed by Wynne’s government aren’t great for distillers either, but at least they are a transitional act that could lead to a more open market if the industry – and consumers – fight hard enough. As Westcott noted, spirits are sold in grocery stores in smaller Ontario communities already. This is the model he and the Association of Canadian Distillers should be demanding for across the province. Resisting change for others will not help them.
So no, the new policy will not “accidentally kill Canadian whisky icons.” If I haven’t turned you against the hyperbolic nonsense yet, another argument, directly fromWestcott’s himself, should: “More Americans drink Canadian whisky than anything else.” According to him, 75 per cent of what is produced in Canada is exported across the globe.
While it would be nice to see more of those products at home, the current archaic system doesn’t allow for that. Until we privatize the sale of alcohol even further, we must rely on the global market to support our alcohol producers, because our self-interested monopolies won’t. So if anything is killing Canadian whisky now, it’s overregulation. Only liberalization can promise a better future for distilleries.
Originally Posted HERE