Punched Drunk: Alcohol, Surveillance and the LCBO, 1927-1975

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis


D.B. Hanna

Input about how best to perform this task was drawn primarily from the D.B. HannaLCBO ‘s first chief commissioner, D.B. Hanna — a man with thirty-five years of experience in the railway business – first as operations manager and accountant with the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) and Canadian Northern Railway Company (CNRC), and later as president of the Canadian Northern Railway Service (CNRS) and, from 1918 to 1921, the Canadian National Railway (CNR) (see Hanna 1924: 35–60, 132–47, 227–314; LCBO 2007: 4). Hanna’s leadership was about the standardization of office work, systems, and forms – all aimed at developing a system of operational statistics that he said would ensure “secure satisfactory reports of operations, exercise proper control, [and] make fair comparisons of results and costs” (Hanna 1924: 331).

The railway system that he was familiar with relied heavily upon detailed tabulation technologies used to track, order, and account for the amount, location, and status of various freight cars, commodities, employees, customers, passengers, and supplies (Railway Review 79 1926: 353, 575, 647, 719,736, 896).
As early as 1921, technologies such as punch-card systems had been incorporated into official railway accounting procedures in the United States and within Canada’s CNR. By 1926 they were seen as “a prove[n] means of economically producing facts and figures vital to operating a railroad intelligently” (Ibid.: 736; Woodson 1924: 153; Hanna 1924: 328–29, 331). In his years at the CNRC and CNRS Hanna had been responsible for the generation of statements of operation and accounting auditing for the company’s annual reports. His section of the reports analyzed financial data and published train traffic statistics. He reviewed passenger travel information and astonishingly calculated revenue per passenger mile, train car, and mile of track down to one one-hundredth of a cent (Canadian Northern Railway Company 1904: 7). This degree of saturation was not incidental to the production of docility; rather, it was its sine qua non, the foundation of what Foucault called the “political anatomy of power.” As Foucault (2004: 45) put it in emphasizing the importance of the minutest elements of control: “Discipline allows nothing to escape…. The smallest infraction of discipline must be taken up with all the more care for it being small.”

Before the Liquor Control Act went before the legislature, Hanna had already been selected to act as the Board’s first chairman, and he was already engaged in the development of the province’s liquor distribution policy. When asked about the administration of the LCBO, Hanna replied, “I will administer the law with the same business principles which I used in connection to railways” (“D.B. Hanna Is Premier Ferguson’s ‘Strong Man” The Globe Feb. 9th 1927: 2).

Closely following the methods of the rail industry, the purchasing of liquor in the province would be managed with multiple formal documents that would make every interaction visible to authorities. Hanna envisioned a system in which “the purchaser would get a permit at a wicket as if getting a ticket on a train” and “would also have a book to list his purchases as if to show the connections of a particularly long journey” (LCBO 2007: 4). The permit and book developed by Hanna’s LCBO allowed for the tracking of every eligible Ontarian’s liquor purchases, enabling the system to live up to Ferguson’s (1927: 3) original mandate of “knowing exactly who is buying and how much” — and this held true from 1927 until the permit system was terminated in 1962.

The Board’s retail outlets were at the outset an engineer’s dream. The Board itself determined that “clear glass on the fronts of the stores” would “make the process appear apparent and with a complete absence of mystery” (LCBO 2007: 5; “No Frosted Glass to Hide Business in Liquor Stores.” The Globe May 21st 1927). Given these lines of sight of an enforced visibility, though, the bureaucracy itself could remain invisible. In its plans the Board also placed a series of “metal rails” in a typical outlet’s interior design — an intentional organization of a disciplinary space in the name of efficiency — a gesture that reduced customers to inanimate objects to be shunted around, thus eliminating any collective coagulation or non-disciplinary assembling (no “loitering” or “sniggering” permitted). The retail environment was thus to be characterized by the imposition of an aggressive transparency.


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