IF YOU believe Premier Doug Ford, it was extremely difficult to find a drink in this province prior to him taking over at Queen’s Park. In its first budget delivered last week, the Ford government bemoaned the fact that there are a mere 3,000 outlets in Ontario that sell booze, compared to much greater availability in other provinces like Quebec and Alberta.

The silly implication being that Ontarians who are fond of beer, wine or hard liquor have been dying of thirst for years, driving hundreds of kilometres for their favourite tipple in vain.

Ford, who does not drink alcohol, has vowed to change that. It has been a major plank in his tenure so far; his buck-a-beer campaign has boosted brew sales by $1.6 million since last August, according to the budget.

This summer, not only will Ontario consumers see more outlets where alcohol can be bought — expanding on what former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne started nearly two years ago — they will also be able to buy their preferred alcoholic beverage earlier in the day.

Currently, Ontario’s licensed bars and restaurants can offer booze at 11 a.m. By the time the leaves are on the trees, they’ll be able do so two hours earlier. That includes golf courses. It was an odd thing to talk about in a budget — the chance to get drunk before the morning dew is off the grass — but Ford, who doesn’t touch a drop, claims this is what “the people” want.

Who needs to have a drink at 9 a.m.? Well, many mental health and addictions counsellors would say that if you’re imbibing at that time of day, there’s a good chance you’re an alcoholic, or fast on the road to becoming one.

Ford doesn’t get into that, though the budget did earmark $174 million for mental health and addiction services. The trouble is, health officials warn that taxes on alcohol sales aren’t keeping up with the cost of dealing with alcohol’s fallout — everything from addiction counselling to responding to fatal highway crashes.

One recalls the kitschy tale about the farmer who, after rising before dawn to take care of morning chores, returns to his farmhouse at sunrise to tuck into a hearty breakfast that includes home-made pie, and a glass of apple brandy of course. It could be seen as a cautionary tale, but it leaves out the real possibility that the farmer soon starts to make it two apple brandies, or maybe even three.

When Wynne introduced beer and wine in grocery stores with much fanfare, public medical health officers winced. That’s because they knew what Wynne apparently did not: that there are bona fide studies that show that making alcohol more available causes people who already drink to drink even more. That’s not hard to understand. A guy who dashes to the store for some bread and eggs might just as easily pick up an extra six-pack while he’s there. This is good for the booze business, but perhaps not so good for the guy’s family.

Health officials in this neck of the woods were pointing out that we drink too much compared to our southern Ontario counterparts long before Wynne, and now Ford, became champions for booze. Impaired driving has also long been a societal scourge; there are no signs of that letting up.

U.S President Donald Trump, a life-long tee-totaler, has rarely given speeches that could be considered heartfelt. But he has never sounded more authentic than when he talks about how alcohol destroyed his late brother.

Ford says people of drinking age are adults and can make their own decisions. That’s true, but there’s a tragic irony in his alcohol push: the late Rob Ford, Doug’s brother and former Toronto mayor, was also ravaged by booze.

These are not cautionary tales. They are true stories.

(Originally published April 15, 2019)

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