The power vacuum left by Dalton McGuinty is sucking in a lot of detritus, including Tim Hudak's bid to privatize the LCBO.
There are various approaches to privatization worth considering, but Hudak's is a scorched earth policy, a big LCB No. He has yet to detail where the money would come from to replace the LCBO's annual $1 billion-plus provincial dividend. For now, it's all aboard the Starship Free Enterprise and we'll deal with that whole government revenue thingy later.
Just ask Conservative finance critic Peter Shurman, whose response to the question of how much money could be made from privatization was a big "Don't know."
Hudak could, like many other LCBO abolitionists, invoke 2005's Strategy For Transforming Ontario's Beverage Alcohol System, a McGuinty-instigated study stating that the province could get out of the liquor wholesaling and retailing business without a loss in revenue.
But privateers frequently fail to mention that the study prescribes a very LCBO-like private system that would "maintain approximately the present total number of retail outlets province-wide and limit the number of outlets in geographic zones."
Hardly the beer-and-wine-on-every-street-corner carrot that Hudak is dangling in front of voters.
But it's not just Hudak pumping free-market booze. The Wine Council of Ontario is promoting mywineshop.ca. Reading this website, I, too, can "imagine walking into a specialized wine shop in [my] neighbourhood - a shop that carries new varieties and old favourites." I have a harder time imagining that they've envisioned a licensing structure that would mitigate proportionate losses to the public purse.
Whether privatization would lead to more or less government revenue depends on which study you read and who commissioned it, but at this time of austerity and cutbacks, do we really want to experiment with the cash cow that is the LCBO?
The old Controller is far from perfect, but until we decide to elect governments that will ensure a decent minimum standard of living and ongoing public spending through taxation - or to be more brass-tacky, until food banks aren't a growth sector - I'll take my trickle-down from the people who know how to wring a buck out of the system.