In terms of per capita alcohol consumption—and as a Canadian, I hate to burst my fellow Canadians champagne bubbles—Canada is way down the list! We’re often perceived to be big beer drinkers, for example, but on average per year we lag far behind the Czechs (8.5 litres), the Austrians (6.7 litres), and Americans (4.5 litres). Yep, Canadian beer consumption comes in at about 27th on a global scale! Some of our beer is stronger, granted, but we’re still not keeping up with our neighbours! Our whiskey is known throughout the world (see our earlier article on Canadian Club), but the volumes that speaks can’t be translated to ‘success’ in per capita bottles. In terms of wine, well, I couldn’t count down that far. Same with spirits, where even Chile edges us out. We’ll share more statistics later. Right now it’s time to talk about our (sometimes strange and divergent) liquor laws…
Our Constitution specifies that the sale and distribution of alcohol is the sole purview of the provinces / territories. This means that where liquor, wine, and beer are sold, how they’re sold, and who they’re sold to be decided on a province-by-province basis. All provinces except Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec—who sell to 18 years or older—are able to sell alcohol to anyone who is 19 or older. Each province may set its own drinking age. Alberta is the only province in Canada to have privatized its liquor industry. In Ontario, you can’t buy beer or wine at convenience stores. You can, however, in Quebec. Ontario’s highly successful Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) sells beer, wine, and hard alcohol (though The Beer Store has the market on beer sales, and private wine stores are allowed to sell wine). You can also buy locally brewed beers at some convenience stores in Newfoundland. In the fall of 2012 Dave Bryans, CEO of the Ontario Convenience Store Association (OCSA) brought his case to the Ontario government, along with a petition of over 100,000 signatures asking for the sale of beer and wine at convenience stores.
Other Canadian liquor facts drawn from the National Post article in the summer of 2012 had some figures and statistics you might find interesting:
- There’s wide support for selling beer and wine in convenience stores or other private establishments in Ontario: over 60%.
- The Beer Store is owned and operated by Labatt’s, Molson Coors, and Sleeman.
- Where Alberta has completely privatized its liquor stores, British Columbia has a mixture of government-owned and privately owned/run liquor stores.
- Government-run The Société des alcools du Québec pulls in annual sales of 2.5 billion dollars, while privately-owned establishments in that province take in almost 315 million annually.
- By comparison to Quebec, Ontario’s LCBO takes in almost 5 billion dollars annually.
- Country-wide, Canadians spend roughly 20 billion dollars per year at beer and liquor stores!
All these stats are either making you thirsty, outraged, or perhaps wondering if you’re involved in the wrong line of business!
Not all news about wine, liquor, or beer in Canada is good news or ‘fun’ news, or simply translates to sales numbers. Not by a long shot. In 2010, the prestigious medical journal The Lancet published a study called Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis. This often-cited study had some shocking, and quite sobering statistics of its own, broken down into two categories:
- The three “most harmful drugs to individuals”: heroin, crack cocaine, and metamfetamine.
- The three most harmful drugs to others: alcohol, heroin, and crack cocaine.
Rather shocking statistics, wouldn’t you say?
The drinking and alcohol culture in Canada has been influenced and spun in any number of ways, both positive and negative, both with fact-checking in mind, and with ‘good times’ in mind. For example, MADD Canada also has a few sobering statistics. Here’s just one: over 40% of motor vehicle fatalities in 2009 were impairment-related. Very sobering indeed.
Much of our advertising and marketing culture, along with many others worldwide, has never stopped pushing to make alcohol sexy, along with people that consume it. In recent years, however, and in response to the kinds of figures MADD and other organizations have compiled, they’ve begun to temper consumption with responsibility. Yet even the word “moderation” has different meanings for different people. Still, they’re working on it. Most companies that sell or promote alcohol are doing what they can, within reason, to not encourage under-age alcohol use. Maybe not enough, but it’s a start. For example, Captain Morgan’s (and many others) ask you to verify your age. Sure, we could lie, but there’s no way of their checking that. Once you enter their website, you’ll see links to “Drink Responsibly” or “Responsible Drinking” everywhere. Canadian Club’s site, even before you enter, has a “Drink Smart” link. This takes you to their “drink smart® website”. The website extolls six simple ways to be a “drink smart® consumer”, including: Cherish, Embrace, Act, and three other rules.
Canadians are, as well as others, moving ever-forward on the designated driver and other similar fronts. For example, in Toronto’s GTA there are several services, besides taxis and your best friends, which will take the risk out of driving home inebriated: they’ll drive you and your car safely home. GTA Designated Drivers will get “You and Your Vehicle Home – Safely!” Their rates vary, starting out at $30.00 and working their way higher (depending on mileage). Smart Ride’s goal is to “make our roads safer and change the phrase “drunk driver” to “drunk passenger”. As Canadians, some of us may love our beer, but we’re sure we love our and other people’s lives a lot more.
That said, we’d like end on a lighter note. Some of the funniest, most clever commercials (that in recent times also extoll safety and responsible drinking) are alcohol related. If you’d like a bit of visual treat, have a look at these two commercials. Both are quite Canadian, and both have their own appeal. The first is quite dated, but shows where beer’s ‘head’ was at the time. The other is much more recent, and based on both on YouTube views and popularity, changed our beer drinking landscape. Enjoy!