British Columbia and Ontario are walking certain parallel paths in the realm of alcohol and politics. In each province, there are pressures from private agencies to change how and where alcohol is sold to consumers, while the governments in question jockey to manage media and public perceptions.
A recent article in Business Vancouver illustrates how the differing factions are positioning themselves in the provincial debate over alcohol revenue. For starters, British Columbia went to a semi-private system some years ago, allowing private industry to sell booze alongside provincial stores. Those private liquor stores would be up in arms if grocery stores were then able sell beer and wine and undermine sales – the main point of contention and the focus of recent public opinion polls.
This issue was explored in the Globe and Mail, as the various BC stakeholders commune with the government to decide how best to divide or maintain revenue streams. This same issue is coming under the microscope here in Ontario as a notable opposition party is posturing to allow the sale of beer and wine in convenience stores, should they win the next election. Meanwhile, the Ontario Convenience Store Association is lobbying hard for a revenue stream to replace ailing tobacco sales.
From the perspective of anyone concerned with alcohol-related harms, such as violence, abuse, addiction or chronic disease, the critical point is being missed…alcohol is not an ordinary commodity like bread and milk – it needs to be carefully handled to minimize harm while meeting society’s needs for pleasure and enjoyment – and this is a delicate balancing act.