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

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis


Technology and Railways

When faced with Premier Ferguson’s goal of a detailed tracking of liquor consumption in Ontario, the LCBO’s business administration of “capable men” turned to known forms of control, namely, the “standardization, monitoring, record keeping and statistical analysis” that were “the cornerstones of bureaucratic surveillance and control of the labour process” in the private sector (Gandy 1993: 86; Ferguson 1926: 6; “D.B. Hanna Is Premier Ferguson’s ‘Strong Man’” The Globe Feb. 9th 1927).

The LCBO’s chosen method of control aimed first at satisfying the need to enforce moderation ideals and temperance values within the drinking behaviours of the general public (LCBO Circular no. 382, 1928; Heron 2003: 260). It also took aim at seeking out those individuals who supposedly lacked the self-discipline necessary for moderate “responsible” drinking (LCBO Circular no. 497, 1928). These individuals posed an incredible risk to the Board because they would not only provide public displays of the consequences of liquor abuse and addiction, but would also justify and reinforce temperance discourses concerning the necessary evil of the liquor trade. As such they would fuel support for political opposition to the government’s system of liquor control. Ultimately, the desired social functions of the LCBO’s surveillance and control policies were risk avoidance combined with the creation of “docile bodies.” In the language of Foucault (1977: 138), such bodies are “subjected and practiced” and live in conformity to the disciplinary techniques, training, regulation, and observation that moulds them; moreover, docile bodies are ineffective in mounting opposition to forms of control or oppression. The LCBO’s surveillance-based system of liquor control saw drinking as a privilege earned through adherence to regulatory definitions of proper behaviour; likewise, the “freedom” to drink was always tied to oversight and accountability.


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