Looting the Treasury

Work in Progress

By Ivan Morgan

From time-to-time government floats the idea of selling the Newfoundland-Labrador Liquor Corporation (NLC).

For years they have used the term privatization. As a journalist I learned long ago never to use a big word where a smaller word will do. The term is not privatization – the term is looting.

Of course business interests want the liquor corporation. Their goal is to make money. Right now the NLC makes a lot of money – for you and me.

This year the NLC returned $210 million in revenue to us. Obviously, business would love to get their hands on that kind of profit.

The question is, because clearly the NLC ain’t broke, why is government trying to fix it?

When’s the last time you paid $500 to have supper with the premier and 400 of his buddies?  I honestly don’t believe there’s anything outright corrupt going on, but who are the Liberals more likely to listen to, you or the folks coughing up $500 each? And why do you think people shell out that $500? For the chicken, farmed salmon and bread rolls?

People pay for access to government. Anyone with eyes can see government couldn’t run a corner store. Businesspeople say they can run the corporation better. They tell politicians that. No doubt they could. The question is: For who?

I have heard endless negative stories about the NLC – hide-bound, bureaucratic, over-managed, and occasionally corrupt. Let business take a crack at it.

I am not against private business. Private business is not evil. This paper is a private business. Private business is about making money, and competition, and there is nothing wrong with that either. Can you even imagine a government-run restaurant!  

I am against selling off a cash cow.

Why do we have a crown corporation that sells booze? 

One hundred years ago this place voted for Prohibition. No booze at all. That’s how bad the drug problem was back then. 

During prohibition the only legal way to get booze was by prescription.

My great-grandfather was a doctor from a wealthy St. John’s merchant family. He could write a script for alcohol. Can you imagine how suddenly popular he was? I have a card he used to give out with his prescription for whiskey. It’s a plain white business card. It says “For the flu: Buy a bottle of whiskey and go home to bed. Put your hat on the post at the foot of your bed. Drink til you see two hats.”

I don’t think he took prohibition all that seriously. That was for the working class, not his crowd.

In fact, most people ignored the ban and got their tipple from bootleggers and moonshiners – who made a fortune and paid no taxes. Government called a royal commission. They found prohibition didn’t work.

So, in 1924 it was decided to get rid of prohibition and start a liquor corporation to ensure, among other things, that government got a decent slice of that pie. We’ve been getting a slice ever since.

I know what will happen if the NLC is sold. Apart from all the current well-paid employees being sacked and replaced with minimum wage earners, as memories fade (and public memory fades mighty quickly) the amount of money forked over to the treasury will begin to fall. Company spokespeople will talk about market pressures, supply chains or whatever the trending excuse of the day is, and that money will be funnelled to the lucky shareholders.

And you and I will be out yet another $200 million.

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