So, as of midnight today, the Ontario Public Service Employees (OPSEU) working for the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) were supposed to go on strike. It’s the closest they’ve ever come to actually striking, so it’s been a terrifying few days for a lot of people, it seems.
The strike has been looming for a while and I guess the main issue is that LCBO is hiring more and more part-time and casual employees and less and less full-time employees. Anyway, the strike deadline was extended at the 11th hour, so while theoretically we still have the possibility of an LCBO strike, it’s unlikely to happen.
For people outside of Ontario (or Canada in general) who don’t understand how crazy the possibility of an LCBO strike has made people, a little background.
In Ontario, and most other Canadian provinces, if you want to buy bottles of alcoholic beverages you have to go to a provincially owned and operated store. In Quebec you can buy beer and wine in the dépanneurs (corner stores) and grocery stores. Some other provinces, like Alberta allow privately-owned liquor stores. But most of the alcohol sales in this country are controlled by the provincial governments.
In Ontario, as far as I know, the only places to buy liquor is an LCBO outlet. Individual wineries are only allowed to sell their own product and The Beer Store (a conglomerate monopoly owned by a variety of international brewers are only allowed to sell beer).
An LCBO Strike would also affect bar owners, hotels and restaurants who, as I understand it, have to purchase all their hard liquor through LCBO.
Wineries and Beer Stores would not be affected by an LCBO strike. And Ontarians that live close to Quebec, Manitoba or the US could just hop across the border to buy liquor.
Still, there has been unbelievable mayhem in liquor stores across the province. Headlines like this graced our newspapers:
Fearful consumers empty LCBO shelves ahead of strike deadline (National Post, June 23)
Yes, people have been crazed with anxiety about the possibility of not being able to buy liquor. They’ve been stockpiling for days — weeks even. There has been pushing and shoving at LCBO outlets. Anger, grumbling and fights over the last bottle of Absolut. The LCBO shelves are empty – of everything, even the Sparkling Baby Duck! Homes all across Ontario now feature thousands and thousands of dollars worth of liquor.
People have locked themselves and their loved ones up in basements with their liquor, beating off visitors with sticks. “We only have enough booze for the family. Go away!” they scream. Enterprising gangsters have filled their bathtubs with cheap grain alcohols and juniper berries. People foolish enough to find themselves without liquor roam the streets like zombies ready to kill for a liquor-soaked brain. (Okay, I have no concrete proof that this last paragraph is completely true).
Yes, it nuts that there is so much red tape involved in buying a bottle of vodka and maybe that’s part of what has been pissing people off — that the people who stack those bottles of vodka on shelves and the people who ring up your purchase at the cash register, have the power to decide whether or not you’ll be able to have a cocktail before dinner next week.
Still, as mental as all this is, in some ways I guess this speaks to how freakin’ good we have it here in this country that something so trivial can shift so many people into hyper-paranoia.
Access to liquor isn’t exactly an inalienable human right, is it? Maybe I don’t get it because I don’t really drink hard liquor anymore. Sure, I enjoy a cold beer on hot day once in a while and I have the usual few bottles of wine on hand to accompany a weekend dinner or whatever. And when those run out I could just make the 15 minute trip to Gatineau. And even if I didn’t live that close to Quebec, I’d make do without.
 And by “really” I just mean I haven’t sworn off it or anything, I’m just not that interested in most of it. If I go somewhere and someone offers me a fabulous martini, I might succumb. And by “might”, I mean “probably.”
 And by “once in a while” I mean if I’m with a larger group of people. Somehow beer never tastes as good to me unless there’s a group. I don’t know why.
 And by “whatever” I mean sometimes after a long day or week I will have a glass of wine all by myself . And by “glass” I sometimes mean “tumbler.”