Montreal Gazette: Montreal bars should fight outdated regulations, not possible competitors

Peter Sergakis doesn’t think Starbucks should have the right to sell alcohol. As the president of the Union of Bar Owners of Quebec, he saysthat “we have enough bars like that in Quebec.” It’s a convenient argument given that he owns much of that market himself, about 40 drinking establishments on the island of Montreal.

Starbucks started selling beer and wine in select American locations, and they now want to bring the pilot project to Canada. According to their spokeswoman, Montreal is a prime target.

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National Post: Overthrowing our booze overlords

During the aging process of any good distilled alcohol, something strange happens. The inebriating substance evaporates and leaves the barrel through pores in the wood. In most cases, around 2% of it escapes in this manner. The craftsmen who produced this product call it “the angels’ share” — it’s their gift to the heavens above, and through this gift they are rewarded with a smoother and better quality liquid.

With most of Canada’s monopolized booze retailers, a similarly strange process occurs with the money in our wallets — though the end result is less romantic and much harder to swallow.

Monopolies, both public and private, are taking advantage of their market control at the expense of customers. They’re helped by a clutch of archaic laws that desperately need revising. Thankfully, some Canadians are waking up to the smell of the bad brew.

Several lawsuits against our alcoholic overlords now have the potential to significantly change how monopolies function, greatly benefiting consumers in the process. These suits are bringing us one step closer to the distant dream of liberalized liquor.

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National Post: Think the Beer Store is bad? Check out the SAQ

In a recent article published in the National Post, British ex-pat Daniel Rouse proclaimed that Ontario’s “Beer Store is worse than any of my nightmares.” Thank goodness he hasn’t travelled to Quebec! While many Ontarians, or visitors to that province, may assume that it couldn’t get any worse, as a Quebecer, let me assure you: It can.

Rouse’s article does make a valid point: The Beer Store is a cartel of three multinational companies controlling a monopoly that stifles domestic competitors, with a stamp of approval from the government, even though the Beer Store provides no direct financial benefit to Ontario (outside of regular taxation, of course). It reeks of the archaic bureaucratic roadblocks from Canada’s prohibitionist past. Service stinks  and even with the recently uncovered sweetheart deal with the LCBO, selection is poor and craft beers are largely absent.

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Montreal Gazette: It’s time to talk about ending the SAQ’s monopoly

Last week, the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec (FCCQ) told Quebec’s ongoing program review committee that the SAQ’s monopoly needs to end. They’re pushing for a slow reform though partial privatization. It’s about time the government listened.

According to a recent Leger poll, 42 per cent of Quebecers would support the privatization of the Société des alcools du Québec. The government has not budged on the issue, purely out of self-interest.

As Quebec’s only buyer and vendor of most alcoholic products, the Crown corporation brings in over a billion dollars to the province annually, about 1 per cent of its revenue. It’s the government’s most profitable venture, with margins over 48 per cent. As a comparison, Liquor Stores N.A. — a company that owns liquor stores in Canada and the U.S. — only had a profit margin of 1.9 per cent.

Consumers are getting ripped off.

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Montreal Gazette: Quebec Liberal youth wing has good advice for Couillard

After Jean Charest promised and failed to re-engineer the Quebec state in 2003, many lost hope that the Quebec Liberal Party could deliver a smaller, smarter government. And yet, those around and behind Premier Philippe Couillard today in 2014 are pushing for just that.

This past weekend, the Quebec Liberal youth wing met in Lennoxville for its annual policy convention. Known for proposing far-reaching changes, the young Liberals form the vanguard of those advocating reform to Quebec’s nanny state.

The youth wing supports privatizing the Société des alcools du Québec, abolishing Quebec’s anachronistic CEGEP system and accommodating a larger role for private health care.

It has also suggested raising the speed limits on Quebec’s roads, debated lowering income taxes (to be followed by a rise in sales tax) and encouraged the exploration of our natural resources.

What’s more, it has proposed prioritizing the most job-skills-qualified immigrants over those who meet language requirements, a move that would help the economy and relieve our welfare system. Perhaps most significantly, it has proposed ending the bureaucratic welfare system by replacing it with a simpler guaranteed minimum income.

These bold, refreshing proposals are exactly what Quebec needs to get back on track. Not only would they aid the consumer, but they would also revamp the economy and simplify the citizen’s relationship to government. Students would especially benefit, being able to bypass a junior-college degree of little value in the rest of North America, thus allowing for a greater focus at the CEGEP level on job training.

Call it Re-engineering 2.0.

Premier Couillard has distanced himself from some of the proposals. That’s fine, but it does not mean that some of these changes shouldn’t come during his mandate.

Couillard is realistic. He understands it is necessary to move slowly on big changes. His current focus is on balancing the budget by cutting spending, but it is plausible that larger reforms are in the cards. After all, young Liberals make up one-third of the party’s delegates at full-party conventions. At minimum, the youth wing’s ideas will help sway the debate toward reform.

The next four years are optimal timing for Couillard to push for a re-engineered Quebec state — a luxury that was unavailable to Charest. When the latter took office, unions were strong and the province had not yet suffered through the recession.

Today, however, thanks to the Charbonneau Commission, Quebecers are aware of widespread union and other corruption and they still lack confidence in the economy. It’s hard to keeping looking at the SAQ and Hydro-Québec as vital state institutions — as they once were — when the cost of alcohol across the border is half of what it is here, and when Hydro keeps charging more for electricity. What would a little competition hurt?

The timing for Couillard is also ideal because his stars align with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume. Both have taken on municipal pension-plan reform, and stood solidly by Couillard and his new government’s Bill 3, even as they take on the unions. Coderre, a former Liberal member of Parliament, has surprised many with his defence of the taxpayer in everything from municipal projects to union scare tactics. There is also no question that Couillard’s relationship with Prime Minister Stephen Harper is much healthier and ideologically congruent when compared with that of his predecessor.

In the present environment, Couillard has the opportunity to take the province on a path that would benefit all Quebecers. As a politician who understands the limitations facing his government, we should expect any reforms to be advanced slowly. But with enough public backing, Quebec may see better days ahead.

Please, Mr. Premier, listen to the young Liberals.

Tom Kott is CEO of Prince Arthur Herald, a bilingual online Montreal student news organization.

Twitter: TomK0tt

Postmedia Russians and their vodka: a brief history

With the Sochi winter Olympics underway, many will decide to celebrate their nations’ victories as the Russians do – with plenty of vodka. Excessive drinking has become the West’s favourite stereotype of the former Soviet republic, and its historical context provides good reason for this. So while you enjoy that fifth vodka soda and cheer on Team Canada, consider the long and complex history booze has played in Russian history.

Russians have considered drinking part of their culture for over a millennium. In 986, Grand Prince Vladimir chose Christianity as the official religion of Kievan Rus because, unlike Islam, it accepted the consumption of alcohol – a decisive move that foreshadowed a nation of drinkers. Over time the distilling process improved, and the first refined vodka was introduced in the 1400s. Vodka became a staple of Russian culture, and with it carried many norms and customs.

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Postmedia Trudeau’s not alone: The history of coffee reveals many haters

In a scathing interview with the Huffington Post on Thursday, Justin Trudeau made a startling and shocking admission that could be seen as unlawful in the eyes of many Canadians.

He doesn’t drink coffee.

He later joked about it in order to take a handle on the situation, regretting his transparency on such a hot, steaming subject. Card-carrying Tim Hortons loyalists were left with a bitter, yet slightly floral, taste in their mouths.

History is filled to the brim with coffee-haters, and the Liberal leader’s recent revelations put him in the company of some bad grounds.

The earliest person to not appreciate coffee’s amazing qualities was Khair-Beg, an early sixteenth-century governor of Mecca who saw people gambling and engaging in sexual activities in the coffeehouses. He compared the effects of caffeine to those caused by wine and decided coffee must be outlawed. In 1511, the coffee shops were shut down.

By the 1600s, the drink made its way to the Christian world. Pope Clement VIII loved his cup of joe, but hated its Muslim association.

“This Satan’s drink is so delicious,” he pontificated, “that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it and making it a truly Christian beverage.”

The holy brew exploded in popularity.

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Postmedia Ke$ha sells new line of penis necklaces — but her fashions are more vintage than she knows

Unbeknownst to Ke$ha, her latest fashion statement has the weight of history behind it.

The eccentric artist released her first jewelry line, Kesha Rose, this past week. While no one expects normal from the singer-songwriter who wears human teeth around her neck and tours the world in feathers and body paint, she managed to outdo herself this time. Most popular among her line is a $20 “zero karat gold” (their words) chain, outfitted with a shiny penis-shaped pendant.

Surely this was done to cause shock and awe and to boost sales (they already sold out of the anatomical accessory). Charles Albert, the jewelry’s design company, claims they “wanted the line to reflect her unique personality.”

But Ke$ha might be surprised to learn that wearing a phallus around the neck goes way back to the time of the Roman Empire. A little social history is needed here.

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National Post: Quebec’s student protest movement goes out with a whimper

Protests may continue in the streets, but the cause has fizzled.

On March 22, a measly 300 Montreal students commemorated the one-year anniversary of their first mass demonstration against Jean Charest’s proposed hikes to post-secondary tuition. Last year, 200,000 people showed up.

Young ideologues who expected the Parti Québécois to reverse the hikes received a lesson in realpolitik when casserole-banging Premier Pauline Marois introduced a 3% “indexation” on tuition in February, a move supported by 68% of Quebecers.

This was a stab in the back for Montreal’s radical students, who had largely endorsed the PQ in last election largely because the party had, eventually, opposed the hikes. The dire situation in which Quebec’s universities find themselves, however, means no rational government, no matter how much pressure students put on them, can freeze tuition without knowingly compromising the province’s educational system. McGill University, for example, projects the rescinded tuition hikes will nearly double their deficit for 2013 and cost them $90-million over five years — funds that will have to be cut out of the classroom. The provincial government has also slashed funding for universities across the board, and the overhyped Education Summit last month ended in a complete failure. The PQ’s 3% hike will do little to change the overall picture.

Clearly, the students have lost. Not only did their presumed political ally abandon the cause, but they did so too half-heartedly to actually maintain educational funding. The students get the worst of both worlds: A tuition hike that won’t fix the problem.

And yet the students have yet to take to the streets in large numbers again. Why?

One of the reasons is that last year’s poster boys for the struggling youth have moved on and grown up. The young Léo Bureau-Blouin is now part of the establishment, working for the PQ against the cause he once hailed. The oh-so unforgettable Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois has become quite forgettable, trading his post as student leader to work for a Quebec trade union. The last amigo in this troika was Martine Desjardins, who stayed on as the president of FEUQ — Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec. She, however, has distanced herself and her organization from those who try to reclaim the so-called Maple Spring. The soul of the movement — including the old charismatic leaders — has dwindled away.

Many of the regular students who gave the moment its lifeblood have also grown fed-up of the constant struggle. The romanticism of last year’s marches has faded. The left no longer has Jean Charest as their antagonist; and they’re careful not to treat Marois as a Charestesque devil. Even the more radical Cégep du Vieux Montréal has rejected the temptations to strike.

The police are also making efforts to clamp down on protests before they get out of hand. During Friday’s protest, over half the attendants were taken into police custody. Montreal Police have signalled their intention to crack down on future protests, part of the reason being that no one is actually paying attention. While strong police tactics once induced solidarity amongst students, it’s now a repellant. Most students serious about their education would rather keep their distance.

All that’s left of the moment are those who make a hobby of activism. They seek the excitement of playing cat and mouse with the cops, and then claim to be victims of police brutality rather than denouncing the government as originally intended.

The true-believers who remain on the streets, surrounded by professional protesters and student journalists looking for a scoop, aren’t enough to keep the movement alive. Until and unless the average student decides that protesting is a better use of their time than studying, the movement has run its course.

National Post

Thomas Kott is editor-in-chief of the Prince Arthur Herald and a student at McGill.