Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is on to something. She says she is prepared to shake down the Beer Store in exchange for maintaining the government-enforced monopoly it enjoys on most beer sales. The idea comes from Ed Clark, the CEO of TD Bank. He led a panel that looked, on Ms. Wynne's behalf, at ways to squeeze money out of government assets. The Beer Store isn't a government asset – it's a private, provincially legislated cartel, owned by three foreign multinationals. Which is worse. But anyway, "We're saying to the Beer Store: You're not getting this monopoly for free," said Mr. Clark, and Ms. Wynne said she is "absolutely willing" to take a look at ideas like charging the Beer Store a franchise fee or raising beer taxes – costs the Beer Store would somehow not be allowed to pass on to customers. "End the monopoly" has somehow morphed into "milk it."
We thought free market competition and consumer choice were the way to go. But maybe we've got it all wrong. And if so, why stop at The Beer Store? Why not offer the same deal to other companies that wouldn't mind cornering their markets? How much would you pay for a monopoly in your line of business? Think of the opportunities.
Take fast food. Ms. Wynne could auction off the sole right to sell burgers, tacos and pizza in Ontario to the highest bidder, and then ban all competition with legislation. That has to be worth at least $1-billion annually to somebody. Maybe more. And just think of the benefits to public safety. The Beer Store says its monopoly keeps costs down and prevents minors from buying beer and harming themselves under its influence. The Fast Food Store could accomplish as much social good, surely, by being given a monopoly on the warehousing, distribution and sale of all of the province's quick service meals, which could be delivered through a hole in the wall on rollers – just like at The Beer Store.
Behold the future: The Beer Store. The Fast Food Store. Lattes and espressos only available at The Coffee Store. Shoes on sale at only one retailer: The Shoe Store. You get the idea. Each would be a monopoly granted to the highest bidder, with the freedom to operate untroubled by the forces of the market, in exchange for the payment of billions of dollars to the government.
Alternatively, Ontario could end The Beer Store's monopoly. But that's crazy talk.