How You Win in Ontario 10


Let me tell you about how things change in Ontario.

In 1837, the rebels in Upper Canada met at breweries. They met at John Farr’s brewery and they met at John Doel’s brewery. John Doel was a Methodist. He wanted exactly the same thing that the rebels wanted: responsible government, democracy and a slightly smaller slice of the pie for the fat cats running the show.

If you know your history, you know that the rebels met at Montgomery’s Tavern and proceeded to march down Yonge Street. They probably met at Montgomery’s Tavern because they were marching against troops commanded by John Colborne. They were ill equipped to fight a man who beat Napoleon’s Imperial Guard at Waterloo. The fact that they bothered at all meant that they were very brave and possibly slightly drunk. They never had a chance.

Change came in Ontario through demographic shifts and through consensus building and it took a long time. A lot of that was done by Methodists who built schools and churches and temperance halls. Some of that was done with money they’d earned selling beer. They changed the mores of society and they changed opinions. In Ontario change doesn’t come from the barrel of a gun. It comes through waiting and working patiently. When William Lyon Mackenzie was finally allowed back into the province it was John Doel who sold him back his property and the Methodists had already changed Ontario.

It’s hard to say how much responsibility anyone has for the changes made by the province to Beer Sales on Thursday. Martin Regg Cohn did some sterling work, at first annually around Christmas and then more frequently over the last six months. Ben Johnson over at Blog T.O. has left nary a feather unruffled in bringing the public’s attention to matters beery. Just about every beer writer in the province has made some contribution, including but not limited to Stephen Beaumont, Crystal Luxmore, Dan Grant, Chris Schryer, Nick Pashley, Robin LeBlanc, Greg Clow and David Ort. There are others, too. If you’re left out, be sure it’s not intentional. We reached critical mass so quickly over the last year that it’s hard to keep track. (ed. note: I can’t believe I left out Josh Rubin. Dude’s great.)

I don’t know how much responsibility I can claim, but the answer is “some.”

I wrote nine blog posts about The Beer Store and, with Alan McLeod, one book that summarized its place in the history of Ontario. The link to the book is to the right.

The first three blog posts didn’t exactly fall on deaf ears, but they reeked desperately of policy wonk. The first post talked about the basic problem with reform (that the issue only cropped up every six months). The second post talked about the OCSA commissioned study written by Anindya Sen and the reason it had failed to persuade. The third post talked about the OCSA’s second study, which I had discussed with Dr. Sen and which talked about economic theory.

Eventually I realized that asking people to understand any economic theory more difficult than supply and demand was going to be fruitless. It doesn’t matter that you’re right if you can’t explain why you’re right.

The fourth blog post was simply called Understanding The Beer Store. By this point I was researching their history with Alan and I realized why people couldn’t get their heads around the business model. To this day I still hear people say “but they must make money.” All you have to do is explain that it doesn’t need to be profitable because it’s saving its owners money. The foreign owned Beer Store was actually preventing its owners from having to push capital into the economy.

The good part about creating easily understood talking points is that they filter out to other places. People started talking about that. The Convenience Store poll from November 2013 said 14% of the population polled were aware of the foreign ownership. By the time I got Lorne Bozinoff to run polling for me in April of 2014, we were up to 22%. I wanted pure data so we made the questions as neutral as possible. By this time, I think everyone realized that the key to the situation was raising public awareness on the issue. All we had to do was keep the flag flying so people would see it. Critical mass of coverage helped a LOT.

I wrote to my MPP, Eric Hoskins who was Ontario’s Economic Development Minister at the time highlighting the massive potential for economic growth. I encouraged others to do the same. I can’t tell you if anyone did, but I’d hope it’s a positive number. I wrote later about the Ontario Problem and the inequity of the situation and how the demographics had changed. When Ontario’s brewers were tempted by The Beer Store in January, I rallied ‘em by aiming for St. Crispin’s day and letting it rip. Eventually, I simply wrote about the necessity of change.

I got name dropped in the C.D. Howe Institute study on The Beer Store and on the Agenda with Steve Paikin. I somehow got a professional polling firm to work for me for free. I co-wrote the history of beer in the province of Ontario (which seems Machiavellian in retrospect, but I’m not that clever. I lucked into that.) which made me into the go-to media interview on The Beer Store’s history. I was interviewed on Global Morning and CBC Radio One (three times this month). I was interviewed by the Globe and Mail and Metro and wrote my own columns in the Sun. I helped Adrian Morrow at the Globe fact check his figures on the beer store’s cost offset after I was let go from the Sun.

I retweeted others and others retweeted me. It was a group effort. The important part was keeping the ball in the air; making sure that the narrative didn’t disappear from the airwaves and from the internet. We fought The Beer Store for the best part of two and a half years. It’s owned by companies with billions of dollars of assets and I fought them with no budget and facts and arguments and rhetoric. I didn’t lose my temper and I didn’t raise my voice and I didn’t give up.

I see people complaining about the changes that have been instituted. That they’re not enough. That they’re a smokescreen. That the Liberal Party are only making changes because they’re in dire financial straits.

I’ll take it.

The thing is this: We’ve got the demographics. We’ve got 245 breweries extant and in planning. We’ve got grocery stores we can browbeat and campaign against. We’ve got MPPs we can write. We’ve got a rabid base of craft beer fans and we’ve got momentum. We just won a thirty year fight and people are worried about whether we can get craft beer on grocery store shelves.

We can. We just have to keep pressing forward politely and persistently.


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10 thoughts on “How You Win in Ontario

  • Al

    I think that this is great news for everyone, even the big brewers. I think that this will see an overall increase in beer sales, rather than craft eating into other segments.

    • admin Post author

      I don’t know about that. I have a theory that the increasing acceptance of marijuana in society is cutting into big beer’s sales as much as craft beer is. People say that beer drinkers switched to wine or liquor, but they never mention pot because there aren’t really reliable statistics. That’s neither here nor there. I think Craft will probably double its market share over the next three years and triple it over the next five. Expect 12% by 2020.

  • beer lover

    So these are all of the people we need to thank for working so hard to get us a new beer tax????….I wouldn’t be bragging…

    • admin Post author

      And thousands of jobs across the province and convenience for consumers and a reformed Beer Store board and online LCBO sales and growler fills at LCBO locations and an improved manufacturing economy and a culture where desire for change can be addressed.

      I’ll say it once and clearly: The price of the cheapest popular brands at The Beer Store has been going up a dollar a year for the last three years. We managed to get a two year price cap instituted. 25 cents a case is nothing compared to the amount you were already being gouged.

  • beer lover

    Not sure if you know this but the government imposed a minimum on what can be charged on alcohol by volume….so simply following the rules is not gouging just wait until you see what the six packs will eventually cost consumers. Ontario had the 2nd least expensive beer prices in Canada and thanks to the above noted….won’t be for long!!! Can’t thank you enough!!….there is also a reason that several states in the US have begun banning growler sales…the above noted may want to quit trying to get us modelled after the US…..unless of course you don’t like your free health care.

    • admin Post author

      So your argument is that prices are going to go up and therefore the proportional taxes are going to go up and somehow the government having more money is going to somehow ruin healthcare?

      I see from the email address you’ve provided that you’re going by Rana Hughes. Does that make you the same Rana Hughes that argues badly and disingenuously on twitter? So far you’ve been unable to string together a series of coherent thoughts, so I’m guessing you’re the same person.

      If you’re simply arguing that prices will eventually go up, they absolutely will, but they would have anyway. This way there’s some upside to the situation instead of the status quo. This creates thousands of jobs and flow of capital through the economy and tax revenue for health care and infrastructure. It creates opportunity for any number of people all across the province. There is a wider societal impact and it’s going to be a net positive. If your worldview is defined by a twenty five cent tax on a two-four, if that’s the be all and end all of your thinking, I don’t want to know you. That kind of solipsistic thought where the world starts and ends with your convenience might fly in the United States, but I’m betting Ontarians are better than that.

  • beer lover

    I’m sorry I thought that this was supposed to be an intellectual discussion and not resorting to insults as you yourself do on twitter…I was somehow hoping that maybe for a split second you could not resort to abusive statements but sadly my hopes were crushed again…Have a good life and you may be able to find friends if you used some intelligence instead of continually insulting everyone around you..Good Bye lonely, lonely man!

    • admin Post author

      I pointed out that your argument is not coherent. If you think that me telling you you’re wrong is an insult, you’re ill equipped for intellectual discussion.

      Edit: Or, perhaps, you’re somewhat compromised in your position given that you’re the manager for The Beer Store in Gravenhurst. You can give up the fearmongering. Your job is safe for like… a decade.

  • Chris

    Homebrewing is ” How You Win In Ontario “. But, I do think this is good news for the rest of Ontario Craft beer drinkers who don’t make their own. I rarely buy beer at the beer store and occasionally shop at the LCBO. This is a small step, but a step anyways. If my local supermarket has Craft Beer for sale, I will certainly buy it. That is a big ” if ” for me. Seeing nothing but mega-crap swill at supermarkets will not help the Craft Brewers of Ontario. We’ll wait and see, you never know because this is something new here. It isn’t new to me because when I travel in the US I buy Craft Beer in grocery stores all the time. It’s just another product to Americans. Just like bread, milk, coffee, beer etc…