How Toronto will eventually tax cigarettes
Funny thing happened back when the city was still mulling over its many new revenue-taxing power-tools. One of the powers under consideration was a levy on cigarettes. Chatting with Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong in his office, he pointed out just how many small, independently-owned convenience stores there are in the city. Bazillions. Some crazy figure. Anyway, Minnan-Wong says to me, these entrepreneurs all depend on selling tobacco to earn their living. “What do I tell them if we tax cigarettes?” he asked. My response: “You tell them you’re going to let them sell beer and wine.” I was only half-joking, but the scenario may yet come true.
Earlier this year, Kim Craitor, a Liberal MPP from Niagara Falls, introduced a private members’ bill at Queen’s Park proposing that convenience stores be allowed to sell Ontario beer and VQA wines. It’s still winding its way through the legislative process. Last week, Toronto city councillor Michael Walker introduced a motion to have city hall voice its support for the bill. It’s been referred to executive committee. And if corner-store entrepreneurs were suddenly less dependent on selling cigarettes to make a living, you could tax their sale and not harm anyone except smokers, who are used to being open targets anyway.
I support the bill because I lived for many years in Montreal, where beer and wine are readily available around every corner, and where society has not crumbled to bits as a result. (I also lived in Alberta, where privatized liquor sales brought prices down while leaving the provincial government well in the black.) I also support the bill because the LCBO sticks in my craw. It ought to be called the LMBO, or Liquor Marketing Board of Ontario. It does precious little in the way of “Control.” It is profit driven and it makes money hand over fist, and there is no longer any moral imperative that drives us to keep the sale of alcohol under government control. Let the corner stores sell the stuff and reap some of the benefits of the world’s largest booze monopoly.