The Thanksgiving weekend is upon us, and if you live in Ontario, chances are that you’ve been stocking up at The Beer Store. The Beer Store, for the few who have not had the pleasure, is one of three places where you can buy a six pack in Ontario. The other two are the LCBO and the brewers’ own retail outlets. Of the three, The Beer Store is by far the biggest, accounting for approximately 80 per cent of all beer sold in the province.
There is a word for this sort of arrangement: cartel. Cartel as in “a group of businesses or nations that collude to limit competition within an industry or market.”
How you feel about The Beer Store depends very much on how you feel about cartels. If, for example, you’re a latter-day robber baron, you should feel right at home with an arrangement that eliminates competition and puts you in charge of distribution.
And if you’re a fan of the nanny state, odds are that you’re also going to be a fan of The Beer Store. After all, it is committed to “responsible service,” IDs anyone who looks even remotely young, posts stern warnings against driving under the influence of its products — who (other than the young and irresponsible) could possibly object?
But in the case of The Beer Store you have the worst of both worlds: a nanny state where the minders are private businesses. Because unlike the LCBO, which is wholly owned and operated by the provincial government, The Beer Store is wholly owned and operated by three multinational corporations: Molson Coors, Anheuser-Bush InBev, and Sapporo Breweries Ltd.
Not that you would know it to look at The Beer Store’s website. Here you will read that “we’re owned by Labatt Brewing Company Ltd., Molson Coors Canada, and Sleeman Breweries Ltd.” Which is true, but what’s just as true is that each of these Canadian icons is now owned by a multinational corporation. If A owns B and B owns C, then A logically (and legally) owns C.
This is a complaint of long-standing, and as often as it has been repeated it has done nothing to shake the provincial government’s faith in The Beer Store. “It ain’t broke,” Dalton McGuinty said back in 2008, adding that he “like(d) the system as it’s found at present.”
One of the things that recommends The Beer Store to the provincial government is its impressive environmental record. Indeed, it is impossible to go into a Beer Store and not be reminded of the billions of empties it has recycled or of its commitment to recycling packaging as well.
All of which is admirable. So, too, are the various causes and charities The Beer Store supports — the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada, arrive alive DRIVE SOBER, the Canadian Blood Services’ stem cell and marrow network, and more.
But The Beer Store’s owners have their own causes, and whether these are equally admirable is open to debate.
Take the Coors family, that most American of dynasties. In 2005, the Coors and Molson brewing companies merged. Where Coors ends and Molson begins in this equation is unknowable, as the company makes a point of not disclosing share percentages by country. But if voting shares are any guide (one-third each for the Coors and Molson families) the company could just as easily have been named Coors Molson.
I grew up in the States, and the one thing my Democratic friends did not drink was Coors beer. This was because the Coors family has a long history of funding Republican candidates and causes.
A generation ago, it was Joe Coors, whose contributions to Ronald Reagan’s campaigns earned him the moniker of the “Daddy Warbucks of the Republican Party.”
Today it is Joe Coors’s descendants, most notably his sons Peter (currently on the company’s board of directors), Bill and Jeff. Of these, Peter Coors is the most conspicuous in Republican circles, having run and lost against Democratic senatorial candidate Ken Salazar in 2004. Over the past two decades he has contributed roughly $290,000 to help elect other Republican candidates, including George W. Bush. He is, along with Bill and Jeff, a board member of the ultra-conservative Castle Rock Foundation.
The corporation itself also overwhelmingly supports conservative candidates in U.S. elections. Since 1990, it has contributed $1.73 million to federal elections and campaigns, and of this, roughly 80 per cent has gone to Republicans.
Now, the Coors have the right to spend their money as they see fit. But shouldn’t Ontario’s beer drinkers have the same right? And if they must buy their beer from a cartel, they should at least do so with the assurance that the profits stay in the province — and out of U.S. politics.