The Rise of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario: 1985-2009

Malcolm George Bird


The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) has undergone a remarkable transformation over the last twenty years. Once a decrepit and inefficient retailer, it is now regarded as a leader in its field. It provides a high level of consumer value to Ontario’s citizens and, most interestingly, has sought to reshape their preferences with regards to consuming and purchasing alcoholic products. Such a dramatic institutional shift was the result of externally imposed expectations, as well as internally generated institutional variables. The political power of other retailers and alcohol suppliers in Ontario’s oligopolistic liquor retail market, certain fundamental organizational changes that occurred to the LCBO, as well as more ephemeral variables such as Ontario’s conservative culture, and long history of government intervention in its economy and the agricultural sector, help to explain the actions of Mike Harris’ Conservative government with respect to this institution. Such an interesting policy outcome in the Ontario liquor market complicates arguments made by some that government enterprises are unable to provide high value services to citizens, as well as the arguments of those who see privatization of public assets as a key characteristic of neoliberal-type reforms.


Liquor boards; Liquor distribution; Liquor policy

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@Canadian Political Science Review (CPSR). ISSN 1911-4125