Here's why government liquor stores are essential during a pandemic

Various governments say they are doing their very best right now to ensure that the delivery of “essential services” is carried out – food, water, fuel. Yet, is the sale of beer, wine and spirits during the coronavirus pandemic a priority? Turns out the answer is: yes.

Indeed, government-run liquor board monopolies remain open across Canada, including the retail stores that comprise the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.

I recently visited the LCBO’s flagship store in midtown Toronto and it was pretty much business as usual. Sure, we need food and water to survive, but apparently the bare necessities of life during this global crisis also include lager and chardonnay and scotch.

So, what’s the deal?

I spoke to LCBO employees off-camera and they told me they have no idea why liquor stores have been deemed an essential service (and apparently, management hasn’t informed them either.)

But here is the unspoken reason: government is concerned that part of the LCBO’s customer base – namely, alcoholics – might prove to be a further burden to the already over-stressed healthcare system if they suffer from withdrawal issues thanks to lack of booze. The thinking seems to be: placate those addicted to alcohol rather than create yet another issue that would tax the resources of healthcare professionals and even members of law enforcement.

Maybe this is indeed the right call.

But it kind of makes a mockery of the ostensible policy reason when it comes to the government’s justification as to why it must run a liquor monopoly: namely, “social responsibility.”

Translation: the private sector can’t possibly be trusted to sell something so potentially harmful as alcohol. Only government can be trusted with this mandate.

And yet, by having these liquor stores stay open during a pandemic, the government is basically admitting that it caters to the needs of alcoholics… and really, what is “socially responsible” about that?