HAMBURG — Look, I’m going to apologize right off the bat for that semi-misleading headline. But I’m not going to apologize for saying that any alcohol you buy in Ontario is ridiculously overpriced. The LCBO, an extravagantly wasteful monopoly empire, should be apologizing for that.
I said “semi” misleading headline because there actually is a very simple (but not practical for everyone) way to pay much, much lower prices for liquor than you’ll find at the LCBO: Just leave the country.
It drives me crazy every time I travel outside Canada and am reminded how much the LCBO (and other provincial booze monopolies) jack up prices and rip off customers compared to non-monopoly jurisdictions elsewhere in the world.
Of course, the simplest thing to do is just cross the border into New York State and watch the prices drop — especially for wine and beer. (It’s up to you how you’re going to get those booze bargains back into Canada.)
Every American state has a different set of alcohol rules and taxes, but here’s a link to some interesting maps that show you which states have the lowest — and highest — taxes on liquor, wine and beer. Every Canadian snowbird driving to Florida for the winter already knows where they’re going to stock up on which particular supplies on the road south.
As Walter Hickey of Business Insider says, “The man with the plan will buy beer in Jersey, wine in New York and liquor in Delaware.”
But I’m not in Jersey, New York or Delaware: I’m in Germany at the moment and the prices are even lower here — in general — than in the U.S. states bordering Ontario. As I’ve already said, it drives me crazy when I compare what I pay for a bottle of anything here in Europe to the LCBO’s high-handed monopoly price-gouging.
This week’s flyer from the local Edeka supermarket (German equivalent of Loblaw or Sobeys) just drove home the huge price disparity again.
I’ve ranted on this before — usually comparing wine prices, since I drink mainly wine — but let’s look at the price of some common liquor brands advertised in the Edeka flyer.
Keep in mind that the advertised Edeka prices are in Euros (taxes already added in, of course) and one Euro (€1) is currently worth about $1.45 Canadian.
€1 = $1.45 Canadian
Jim Beam Bourbon
Edeka reg. €12.49 ($18), sale €9.99 ($14.50)
LCBO list $27
(54% of LCBO price)
Bailey’s Irish Cream
Edeka €9.99 ($14.50)
LCBO list $29.95
(48% of LCBO price)
Captain Morgan Original Spiced Gold Rum
Edeka €8.99 ($13)
LCBO list $28.95 for Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum which seems to be the same thing as Captain Morgan Original Spiced Gold.
(45% of LCBO price)
Chivas Regal (12 year) Blended Scotch
Edeka €19.99 ($29)
LCBO list $49.95, sale $46.95
(60% of LCBO list price, 64% of LCBO sale price)
So, in general terms, you’re paying basically double in Ontario for the same bottles of booze made in the U.S., Ireland, the Caribbean and Scotland.
Don’t forget, these prices are for internationally marketed, high-end name brands. You’ll find perfectly fine but not-a-brand-name-you-would-recognize versions of bourbon, Irish cream, rum, scotch and so on for substantially less just down the aisle in the same supermarket. And the prices drop even more when you go across the street to shop at a discount, No-Frills-type grocery store like Aldi or Netto.
Vodka is basically so cheap that it doesn’t even make it into the flyers, even if it goes on sale. A bottle of standard supermarket Polish, Ukrainian or Russian vodka usually costs in the €6-7 range (about $8-10) here.
Of course, you can pay more for any of these products. The point is that you don’t have to unless you choose to. Unlike in Ontario.
I’m not promoting increased consumption of alcohol or binge drinking with these price comparisons. It’s up to you if that’s what you do just because alcohol is reasonably priced.
That’s not what happens in Germany just because alcohol is available in supermarkets and is not outrageously overpriced because of a government-controlled monopoly system.
Kids don’t have any easier access to alcohol in the supermarkets here than they do in Ontario’s LCBOs. And alcoholic shoplifters don’t pocket any more supermarket booze here than they steal from LCBOs in Toronto.
Denmark, just across an invisible border from Germany, has substantially higher booze prices (not quite as high as Canada but, like the rest of Scandinavia, still taxed highly compared to the rest of Europe) yet Danes, on a per capita basis, also drink substantially more than Germans.
Of course, the Danes just take day trips across the invisible border to Flensburg in northern Germany to stock up on affordable alcohol. And the European Union customs agreement allows each person to legally transport (for personal consumption, of course) 110 litres of beer AND 90 litres of wine AND 10 litres of liquor from one member country to another on each and every trip, so the only people who actually pay Danish prices for alcohol are people who don’t plan ahead.
The price difference is even greater when it comes to wine.
Look at these two bottles I bought a couple of days ago at Aldi: The one on the left is a very drinkable 2012 Chianti and the one on the right is a lovely 2009 Carinena Tempranillo (not quite as good as the superb 2007 vintage of the same Los Royales Tempranillo that Aldi was selling a year ago, but still lovely).
Because you’ve been hornswoggled and brainwashed by the LCBO for so long, you can’t even begin to figure out what I paid for these very nice table wines that you’d pay $10-$18 for in Ontario.
The Chianti cost €2.29 ($3.32) and the Tempranillo cost €2.49 ($3.61).
Of course I can pay more — a lot more, if I want — for Chiantis and Tempranillos and Medocs and Sancerres and every other sort of wine in Europe. I can get a fabulous red for €5 ($7.50) from the neighbourhood wine merchant down the street or I can sit in a 400-year-old wine cellar and sample mind-blowing vintages at $40 or $50 or $100 or $200 a pop. But here’s the thing — I don’t have to. And, believe it or not, I can buy palatable wines for even less than the Rubinello Chianti or Los Royales Tempranillo above — I’m talking €1.49-€1.99 ($2.16-$2.89) — but why would I when I can get a truly satisfying wine for just a few cents more?
The cheapest Chianti I found on the LCBO website is Roca Delle Macie Chianti Vernaiolo currently on sale at $12.50 (regularly $14). Most Chiantis listed by the LCBO are in the $20-$30 range, climbing up to about $100. (Granted it was a few decades ago, but in my youth I bought a certified, fully functioning used car for not much more than one of those $99.95 bottles of Chianti from Vintages.)
Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “Of course, wines made in Europe will be cheaper in Europe just because of proximity.”
But that much cheaper? And explain to me why — tell me, why — wines made in Australia, South America, South Africa and even the U.S. can be just as affordable in Europe as European wines and drastically cheaper than the same wine would sell for in Canada. I’m talking California cabs and Australian merlots in the same $2-$5 price range. The last time I looked, California’s Napa Valley was a lot closer to Toronto than it is to Hamburg.
I’ll tell you why: Because wine and other alcoholic beverages are taxed outrageously in Ontario and — much more importantly, in my view — the general sale of alcohol in Ontario is a monopoly held by the damned, wasteful, self-serving, self-aggrandizing LCBO.
(I’m not even going to bother with the meaningless side issue of Ontario wineries’ own-product shops which, as of next year, will be allowed to sell “cellared in Canada” wines made with 100% FOREIGN-GROWN CONTENT. If you want to pay ridiculous mark-ups to an Ontario-branded wine marketer for cheap foreign plonk — which is often, in my opinion, as good as or better than the even-more-expensive expensive 100% Ontario VQA plonk — that’s your business.)
Please don’t give me this bull about taxes on alcohol in Ontario paying for hospitals and schools and highway construction. Maybe some of the taxes you pay on alcohol go for those purposes, but a hell of a lot more goes to pay for things like gas-plant contract buyouts and Dalton McGuinty’s gold-plated pension.
But let’s make a deal: The provincial government can keep all the alcohol taxes it currently charges … if it will just stop charging us another arm and another leg for the monstrous, unnecessary, extravagant bureaucracy and infrastructure that is the LCBO.
Another bit of bull bantered about: The LCBO, as the world’s largest single buyer of alcohol products, is able to get deals from producers and wholesalers that other, smaller buyers could not command. Well, if the LCBO is getting such great deals from the suppliers, why the hell isn’t the consumer seeing those great deals at the cash register? Why are small merchants all over the world able to sell exactly the same product for much, much less than the deceptive, deceitful LCBO is charging?
The German government, I should add, seems able to pay its bills and keep its autobahns from crumbling without relying on the windfall profits of a liquor monopoly.
There is absolutely no reason for the LCBO to exist. There is absolutely no reason for this bloated, self-perpetuating Frankenstein to keep building ever-bigger, ever-fancier, ever-more-wasteful castles and mausoleums in which to sell us alcohol at inflated, extortionist, monopolistic prices — and then tell us it’s just the cost of doing business, so shut up and get in line.
I would, of course, like to see the the taxes on alcohol reduced somewhat and all — ALL — of the remaining alcohol-tax (and marijuana-tax, in a couple of years) revenue devoted exclusively to health and education.
But I’ll settle for getting rid of the LCBO first.
There is no reason on earth why Sobeys and Metro and Loblaw and IGA and No Frills and Food Basics and Costco and Walmart and Shoppers Drug Mart and all the rest can’t fit in another aisle or two of booze beside the cosmetics and candy and cat food and detergents and teeth whiteners and toys and magazines and microwaves and socks and easy chairs and umbrellas they’re now filled with. Scrunch over, depilatories and drain cleaners — make room for Cote de Castillon and Chardonnay and Captain Morgan and Canadian Club.
If Loblaw can get fresh Peruvian roses to Geraldton and Sobeys can get fresh Atlantic salmon to Kapuskasing, you can’t tell me they won’t do a better job than the LCBO — at a better price — getting a bottle of Beaujolais to the corner of Broadview and Danforth.
So that’s my present to you: How to get cheap(er) liquor for Christmas.
It can be done. I’ve told you one way to do it — leave the country. Here’s another way — get rid of the LCBO.
Does it really need a change of government to do it — or is that just an added bonus?