Alberta, it turns out, is once again being vilified by a group of Ontarians as the cowboy province that can’t control its drinkers. All because we sell liquor in our grocery stores.
Of course, we don’t actually do that. Many grocery store outlets have liquor stores that are adjacent, or within walking distance. But why let the facts get in the way of a good advertising campaign?
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents workers at Ontario’s Liquor Control Board, has launched an advertising campaign aimed at making the public aware of the dangers lurking in the aisles of your local grocery store if Premier Kathleen Wynn goes ahead with her announced plan to allow alcohol sales there.
Up to $1 million has been budgeted for the campaign, which claims the move to grocery store sales of booze will make buying beer easier than grabbing a double-double at Tim Hortons. That’s another interesting twist on the truth; Ontario has about 450 grocery outlets that could sell liquor and many times more Tim Hortons outlets – many of them equipped with drive-throughs.
Such fun with fiction would be of little concern to westerners were it not for the union’s decision to hold up Alberta as a cautionary tale. The ads state that Alberta, which pioneered private liquor sales in 1993, is three-and-a-half times more likely to have drunk drivers on the road. The claim is based on Statistics Canada data reporting that Alberta had 450 police-reported impaired driver incidents per 100,000 in 2011, while Ontario had 130. Reflecting that fact, the ad intones: “Do you want to make that kind of trade-off in Ontario: a little bit of convenience for a whole lot of pain and suffering?”
Such selective use of information may work if the listener does not pause to impose a ‘bunk’ filter. But a couple moments of reflection is all it takes to realize that there is no direct relationship between the added convenience of private liquor retailers and a higher incidence of drunk driving.
Alberta is a province populated with young people, who tend to drink and drive more than Ontarians. The unhealthy lifestyles of workers in the oil fields, however, have nothing to do with whether they buy their booze at a government liquor outlet or Sobeys.
One additional bit of information the union chose to ignore in its ad campaign exposes the faulty logic in its argument. Three jurisdictions with government controlled liquor boards actually have higher impaired driving incidents per capita. They are the Northwest Territories (1,463 incidents), the Yukon (943) and Saskatchewan (683).
And while we’re on facts, how about this? The privatization of liquor sales in Alberta has been overwhelmingly popular with consumers. In those 20-plus years since the switch, the number of outlets has grown from fewer than 300 to nearly 2,000 today, according to the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission. The number of available products has grown from 2,200 in 1993 to more than 19,000 varieties of beer, wine and spirits, today. Employment has more than tripled – albeit not at union wage rates.
Consumers sometimes pay more for the convenience they enjoy in Alberta, but that is their own choice. With a fully competitive marketplace, many products are available at, or below, rates found in those closely governed provinces. All a consumer has to do is shop around.
In short, OPSEU’s ad campaign is a straw man. I understand why union members are loathe to see an end to the security that comes with jobs-for-life in government liquor stores. It’s just a shame that in building its campaign, the union consciously chose to pick on a region of the country that is all too familiar with eastern insensitivity.
Veteran political commentator Doug Firby is president of Troy Media Digital Solutions and publisher of Troy Media.