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Isn’t it all about money?

Arthur Enterprise News / Fergus-Elora News Express / Mount Forest Confederate editorial

It was a little surprising to discover the McGuinty Liberals were suddenly concerned about giving people more access to alcohol sales.

After all, this was the provincial government whose philosophy seemed to be to protect the public at all costs from just about anything that might remotely be harmful – the government that moved quickly to ban pit bulls after a couple of well-publicized attacks, and which cut back LCBO evening hours in an attempt to curtail drinking and driving.

But the government has been forced in the past few months to give up its more paternalistic attitude – and much of its friendly facade – in an attempt to deal with the massive debt racked up during stimulus spending after the 2008 recession.

The expansion of the LCBO into grocery stores is just another facet of the province’s drive to increase revenue and cut expenses that’s included the harsh labour situation with teachers, and the move to “modernize” (definition: expand) gambling operations.

In announcing on New Year’s Eve, the 10 “express” LCBO outlets in selected grocery stores and new LCBO “boutiques,” Finance Minister Dwight Duncan gave the impression the move was in response to consumer pressure and called it “an important step forward.” Toward what, he didn’t say.

But we doubt adding booze to the grocery list is a top priority for many Ontario residents, who are likely much more concerned their kids will be in school, that they can get access to health care, and that they’re not laid off in another downturn.

No doubt the 10 new LCBO outlets will be the first of many – unless there is a concerted push-back from the public. And it’s not really such a bad idea, making it a little more convenient for people to pick up some beer or a bottle of wine for dinner while they’re out grocery shopping. (Many places already have wine outlets in grocery stories – but these new LCBO shops would be smaller versions of a full liquor store.)

But alcohol isn’t a harmless thing – and this isn’t like making pizza and cheesies more prominent on shelves during Grey Cup Weekend.

This winter, the OPP noted an increase in drinking and driving before the start of their annual Festive RIDE, saying people aren’t getting law enforcement’s message about the perils of driving drunk.

“Impaired driving continues to be the leading criminal cause of death in Canada and Wellington County is no different,” said Wellington OPP detachment commander Insp. Scott Lawson.

Given that, it’s surprising that legislators would want to be seen to be making alcohol easier to buy – in effect, putting it right in grocery stores where it’s much more convenient to pick up. Wouldn’t it make more sense to inhibit alcohol sales, stop making LCBO stores attractive places to shop, lock alcohol away behind bland beige walls so people have to ask for brands by name?

But the more people who buy more alcohol – and there’s no doubt from Dwight Duncan’t comments he’s hoping for more alcohol sales to boost the economy – the more money the government makes in taxes.

Just as McGuinty has seemingly forgotten about the negative impact of making gambling more prevalent and easier to access with his plan for more mega-casinos across the province, so he seems to have forgotten the negative impact of easy access to alcohol.

Making money, it seems, is more important.

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