WHEN former U.S. president and renowned pragmatist Herbert Hoover nearly a century ago promised “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage,” it was on one level just another politician trying to tap into the hopes and dreams of a weary electorate.
At the time, many Americans — and Canadians, too — had bigger problems than not having a car. But Hoover could hardly be blamed for at least espousing the right for all to enjoy a decent meal, and the expectation of a basic standard of living. To our knowledge, Hoover never talked about how great it would be to be able down gallons of beer for a song.
Fast forward about 90 years, when soup kitchens still exist, but bread lines are thankfully no longer wide-spread. Ontario is reasonably prosperous, though many families still struggle to put on a decent meal, something every political leader should be concerned about.
After only having been premier for a couple of months, Doug Ford has already proved himself to be a pretty good orator. Not every politician has the knack.
Ford’s dream of being able to purchase a can or bottle of beer for only a dollar — a buck-a-beer, as he likes to call it — seems misplaced, and a strange use of public-speaking skills.
In recent weeks, the idea has been widely panned by hard-line socialists, craft brewers and penny-pinching Conservative pundits alike. And yet Ford continues to exhort its supposed virtue, as if it were a Depression-era moral imperative and benefit to society.
Brewers don’t have to comply. But those that do are slated to get V.I.P. treatment at provincial LCBO outlets.
Ford claims that being able to bag a beer for a loonie came to a head in the spring election campaign; as pressing, say, as sky-high gasoline prices and hydro rates. This just doesn’t ring true. For many voters, Ford’s post-election promotion of the beer idea was the first they’d heard of it. Buck-a-beer — and the notion that a premier would actually spend any time on it — was a real head-scratcher.
Many involved in Ontario’s burgeoning craft-brew industry say they simply can’t produce the quality their customers have come to expect and retail their product for as little as a dollar. That seems reasonable. A good craft brew may retail for around $3. It’s a weekend treat, and the fact it costs that much seems reasonable.
If it was $5, say, customers might be less understanding,, but they would decide. Nobody needs beer to live, heat wave or no heat wave. This is not the Victorian age, when many a British subject felt it was safer to imbibe a brew than plain city water.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation opined this week that Ford’s approach is “absurd”: the main reason that makes beer costs rise , the federation noted, is because that nearly 60 cents per bottle, and 70 cents per can, goes for provincial taxes, not barley and hops.
Ford would be better off tackling the tax end of things rather than trying to cajole brewers into lowering their prices. He wouldn’t tell grocers how much to charge for a roasting chicken, or dictate the prices on a restaurant menu.
Frankly, there is something unseemly about a premier acting like a cheerleader for alcohol consumption. Former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne did the same when beer and wine were introduced in grocery stores. Ford’s cheap-beer stance seems ironic, given his late brother Rob’s well-known struggles with booze.
Doug Ford maintains that adults who drink know when they’ve had too many. Perhaps. But far too many don’t: Impaired-driving remains a scourge on our provincial highways.
Provincial health officials tells us that the annual financial cost of dealing with drunks on the road, and addiction issues in general, now exceeds the revenue the province takes in each year from beer and wine sales.
Ford would do well to can the beer talk, and let the market determine what people will pay for their suds of choice. There are simply more important issues worthy of a premier’s attention.
As the song says: “Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.”