doug ford buck a beerPremier Doug Ford has announced a plan to reduce the minimum price for the sale of beer in Ontario to $1.00 plus deposit per bottle. The Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty previously raised the minimum price per bottle from $1.00 to $1.25 in 2008.

Contrary to Ford’s rhetoric about bringing back “buck-a-beer”, his initiative does not actually lower the cost of beer. It merely reduces the minimum price at which beer may legally be sold. In reality, Ford is relying on brewers to pick up the slack by taking up his buck-a-beer “challenge”. The government is offering participating companies a range of “non-financial incentives” to reduce their prices, such as prime shelf spots at LCBO stores and free advertising in flyers and inserts.

Ford’s claim that “there will be no subsidies or tax handouts” is a blatant lie. Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath pointed out that Ford’s plan represents a de facto subsidy for beer companies, noting that “these product placements or advertisements … have monetary value.” For all their free-market rhetoric about “allowing price competition for beer”, the Conservative policy amounts to a glorified act of corporate welfare.

Even so, brewers have balked at the plan. Their reasoning is simple and, from a capitalist perspective, irrefutable: Lowering the price of beer would inevitably cut into their profits. As reported by the Toronto Star, cost of production for beer has increased greatly since 2008. Key ingredients are now more expensive due to inflation, product shortages, increased demand, higher water bills in Ontario, and the impact of new tariffs that have raised the cost of importing aluminum cans. When one factors in the cost of raw ingredients such as barley, yeast, hops, and water, as well as labour costs, equipment, and packaging, selling beer for $1 becomes nearly impossible for any brewer seeking to turn a profit.

Even if one accepted Ford’s claims at face value, the minimum price of beer would soon rise above $1 anyway. The Premier plans to introduce his legislation to lower the minimum price before the Labour Day weekend. But on Nov. 1, 2018, a scheduled increase in the basic beer tax will take effect, resulting in a three-cent increase on the price of draft and non-draft beer. Ford has given no indication that he will cancel this tax hike, suggesting he wishes to preserve the resulting influx of government revenue.

Ford’s acquiescence to the tax hike exposes his “buck-a-beer” plan for what it really is: a cynical branding exercise meant to distract Ontario voters from his government’s relentless attacks on workers, the poor, children, and marginalized groups. Almost every major announcement that has come out of the Ford government since taking office involves acts that will reduce the quality of life for groups collectively making up the vast majority of Ontarians. His “buck-a-beer” announcement, for example, immediately followed news that the Conservatives would be breaking a campaign promise by scrapping the basic income pilot project.

There are many serious issues confronting working people in Ontario: unaffordable housing prices, skyrocketing tuition, the growing threat of climate change, the need for mental health services, and so on. In every case, Doug Ford is either doing nothing about these real social problems, or is actively making them worse. All he offers in return is the illusion of cheaper alcohol. In this sense, Ford’s “buck-a-beer” sham is emblematic of capitalism itself—a system which cannot improve the overall quality of life for the majority of people, but can only offer drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of existence.

In a classic episode of The Simpsons, Mr. Burns presents a new contract to his unionized workforce at the Springfield nuclear power plant. The contract requires the union to give up its dental plan—which the workers had fought for and won in a previous strike—in exchange for a free keg of beer. Initially swayed by the enticement of beer, Homer Simpson comes to realize what is truly at stake and rallies his union brothers and sisters. The workers ultimately go on strike to defend their dental plan and achieve victory. Working class Ontarians today, fighting Doug Ford’s attacks amidst his false promise of cheaper beer, can learn a great deal from the experience of Homer and his fellow workers.

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