Counting on the Drinkers’ Vote

A few weeks ago I sat down at my computer and opened an email  that had a link to a special interview with the leader of the Provincial Conservatives, Tim Hudak. With an election only weeks away the rhetoric and the promises are flowing like water. However, in terms of the main concern for Ontario’s wineries, greater access to the market, these have been largely ignored by the McGuinty government; but it seems that Mr. Hudak has got himself a plan.

Tim Hudak’s promise of  VQA-Only stores seems like a genuinely great one. However, the recent past suggests that the Leader of the PC Party will have quite the fight on his hands. Particulalry from LCBO and the Californians, who have achieved unparallel success here in Ontario, and who are threatening to blow the Free Trade whistle if Tim goes forward with his plan to loosen the market for VQA wines.

In the past, Mike Harris, a conservative and once premier of the province – who had a Common Sense Revolution – also had plans to revolutionize the LCBO. However, this was a promise he did not fulfill.  Mr. McGuinty also made some noise about the liquor board and even followed through with a study and report, called the BASR report, but  similarly the issue was scrapped and the report buried.

Mr. Hudak has not said he’ll take on the Board, in fact he is promising greater access to market for local wines (being a Niagara-boy he’s doing his riding proud), but the KGBO knows that would be the first step in losing control of the whole system.

Although the idea to take on the Board and the Californians, is potentially a good one, the question remains: How many Ontario/Canadian wines are in Californian liquor stores?  Can we lodge our own complaint against them?  The question will be how far will Mr. Hudak get in his endeavour to bring VQA wines to the masses?  History doesn’t bode well for the would-be premier of the province and that’s too bad, because many Ontario vintners would love to see the marketplace pried open; but something tells me the LCBO will take the Charlton Heston NRA approach:  you’ll have to pry the control of booze out of their “cold dead hands”.

A quote found in a Globe & Mail article from July 6, 2011 sums up the situation brilliantly: “If Ontario wants to boost market share for local winemakers, then it should simply privatize alcohol sales and give fair treatment to all vintners.” Mr. Jim Clawson [chief executive officer of JBClawson International, US industry’s top trade consultant since the early 1980s] said, “You make it awfully difficult for consumers to buy a bottle of wine in Canada.” With this one statement, Jim has said a mouthful, but this now leads to the next question for the campaigning PC leader:  Why stop at VQA?  I think Clawson has given us a better idea; if you’re gonna pick a fight, might as well be for the whole enchilada, not just for the cheese topping.