Wooing by brewing: How booze influences politics in Canada

From pop culture to patios to controversial government policies, alcohol — beer, especially — is a big part of Canada’s identity. But what sort of influence does it have on our politics?

Ontario’s experiment with controlling beer prices may be raising eyebrows across the country right now, but alcoholic beverages have always played an outsized role in Canadian public life.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s buck-a-beer push — to lower the minimum price of a bottle or can of beer to $1 from $1.25 by Labour Day weekend — is just the sort of populist measure many expected from the province’s newly-elected Progressive Conservative government. Ford’s government is offering incentives — such as prime shelf space at LCBO outlets and free advertising — to brewing companies that manage to reach that target.

Not everyone is raising a glass to the idea. Several brewing companies across the province have expressed their dismay, saying there’s no way to produce a quality product for only a dollar.

The Dominion City Brewing Company in Ottawa is accepting Premier Doug Ford’s buck-a-beer challenge, but not in the way he’s expecting. 0:54

The buck-a-beer policy only applies to products with less than 5.6 per cent alcohol content and participation is not mandatory.

Ontario previously had a minimum price of one dollar for beer, but the Liberal government of the day quietly hiked the minimum price in 2008, citing its “social responsibility” mandate.

Beer is the alcoholic beverage of choice in Canada; Canadians consume more of it than wine and spirits combined.

Canada’s largest province isn’t the only one with a history of bickering over booze.

Sour grapes

In the midst of her province’s dispute with British Columbia over the fate of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in February, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley imposed a provincial boycott on imports of B.C. wine.

The move was meant to put pressure on B.C. Premier John Horgan to abandon his government’s opposition to the pipeline expansion project.

“The wine industry is very important to B.C.,” Notley said at the time. “Not nearly as important as the energy industry is to Alberta and Canada, but important nonetheless.”

​In 2017, Alberta imported about ​17.2 million bottles of wine from B.C., Notley said. That amounted to about $70 million in revenue for B.C. wineries. About 95 per cent of Canadian wine sold in Alberta liquor stores is from B.C.

While Notley curtailed the flow of B.C. wine in order to gain short-term leverage in a political dispute, other barriers restricting the movement of alcohol across provincial borders have been in place for much longer.

‘Free the beer’

The “free the beer” case began in 2012, when Gerard Comeau, a retired New Brunswick man, was stopped by RCMP at the New Brunswick-Quebec border and fined $292.50 for having 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor in his trunk — a violation of the New Brunswick Liquor Control Act. (His booze was also confiscated.)

He took his case to court. In April of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that provinces and territories have the constitutional right to restrict the flow of goods across their borders, so long as the primary goal of the restriction is not to impede trade.

Canada’s premiers have agreed to relax laws that restricted the amount of liquor people could bring across provincial borders. 3:42

Then, in July, the country’s premiers struck a deal to boost the amount of liquor individuals can bring across a provincial boundary for personal use. Currently, only two provinces — Alberta and Manitoba — have no such limits whatsoever.

Three jurisdictions — New Brunswick, the Northwest Territories and Newfoundland and Labrador — have limits making it illegal to cross a provincial boundary with anything but small amounts of liquor.

Alcohol and elections

Booze has a long history of use in Canada as a political tool.

Back in the 1850s, John Carling and his brother took over the family brewery in London, Ont. Fearing a temperance movement would cripple his business, Carling decided to run for public office.

“On election day, he rolls out the liquid assets and puts a barrel of beer right beside the polling station,” said Matthew Bellamy, a history professor at Carleton University. Carling subsequently won a seat in the pre-Confederation Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada.

But not all attempts to sway voters with booze went down smoothly. At the tail end of Prohibition and at the height of the Great Depression, Ontario Premier George Henry ran on a policy that would allow people to drink full-strength beer. Henry lost, but the man who beat him — Mitchell Hepburn — snagged the idea and implemented it.

Bellamy said that while politicians like Henry, Carling and Hepburn have tried to exploit the political power of alcohol, it has never really caught on as an electoral tactic here.

“Politicians didn’t want to be associated with beer that much,” Bellamy said. “The liquor question has divided us for most of our history.”

From pop culture to patios to controversial government policies, alcohol – beer, especially – is a big part of Canada’s identity. But what sort of influence does it have on our politics? 11:16

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Sherwood Park

Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area.[7] It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary,[8] generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road).[9] Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.[9]

Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016,[6] Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.


Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.

The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton.[8] The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.

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