Canadian Monopoly Is Closed Due to Strikes

A strike at the LCBO, Ontario's alcohol monopoly, has upended the alcohol landscape. 

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Strike at the LCBO (Image: AI generated, DALL-E)
Strike at the LCBO (Image: AI generated, DALL-E)

Canadians in Ontario who want a drink will have to be patient.

That’s because workers at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) are on strike — the first such strike since the LCBO was founded in 1927. Some 10,000 workers and 680 stores are involved.

The strike began on Friday, 5th July. There were to be five distribution centres open to ensure the on-trade was supplied, but this plan has been cancelled due to picketing at the locations.

Why are workers striking?

Doug Ford, the Premier of Ontario, wants to change the rules around how alcohol is sold in the province, to fulfil his 2018 campaign promise.

The Ford government has proposed several reforms, including allowing spirits-based RTDs to be sold outside of the LCBO.

As CBC news put it in 2023: “the Ford government faces its own internal dilemma between its competing desires of giving the free market more control of booze sales vs. keeping LCBO revenues flowing into the provincial treasury.” Those revenues amount to C$10 billion a year.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is worried that jobs will be lost. It created a proposal that “included opening more public retail locations, expanding opening hours, increasing LCBO warehousing, logistics and e-commerce capacity in-house, and creating more permanent positions,” reported the National Post. They are also asking for wage increases.

In June, 97% of LCBO workers voted to strike. After OPSEU talks with the government broke down, workers walked off the job.

What happens now?

The Ontario government has called for the union to return to the negotiating table.

Theoretically, on-trade operators can order the products they need, but Kelly Higginson, the president and CEO of Restaurants Canada, told news outlet CP24 that the contingency plans aren’t working.

“We are having trouble getting our hands on the basic products that we need to operate our businesses,” she said.

Restaurants Canada says 14,000 of the 38,000 restaurants in Ontario serve alcohol, and the majority are dependent on the LCBO for their supply.

Residents of Ontario can order a limited amount of alcohol from the LCBO site and have it home delivered — but the website warns of delays.

This article has been updated to better reflect the reasons why the OPSEU has called for a strike.

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