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

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis



The idea of moderation accepted many of the temperance assumptions regarding the outcomes of liquor use but rejected the belief that all alcohol use necessarily led to those outcomes. Instead, its adherents argued that the social ills caused by liquor were based in overindulgence, and not in all use, and that individual moderation coupled with strict liquor control over populations with a weakness for liquor could do a better job of protecting society than did the law of prohibition (Heron 2003: 196–99). Moderation approached Ferguson election posteralcohol use from an almost harm-reduction standpoint — in the sense that a pragmatic “what works” policy would minimize the risks and damage caused by liquor — and embraced the individual’s freedom to choose to drink or abstain (see Catlin 1931; Room 2004). Proponents of moderation and liquor control accepted that alcohol would be used, but called for strict oversight measures to control the physical and social harms of abuse (Room 2004: 925). Although the proponents of moderation never did exist in Ontario as a social movement able to rival the temperance organizations in membership or ability to generate petitions, social elites as well as government officials bought into their arguments and supported the cause in a diffuse manner.

Moderation discourses in Ontario adopted and promoted the belief within the general public that prohibition had been a failure; and they pushed for a compromise between prohibitionists and those wanting legal access to liquor. Liquor control importantly allowed, at least rhetorically, for the continuation of the temperance project of moral regulation, while also allowing individuals the freedom to drink legally and — perhaps just as importantly — allowing the government to draw in the great profits that could be generated by the liquor trade. Premier Ferguson’s public speeches on the sale of liquor drew directly from moderation arguments. In 1927 he explained:

“Rather than prohibition or coercive methods of suppressing the traffic[ing of liquor], after our experience of ten years we think the Government should undertake the control [of] the traffic. The legislation today is designed with the object in view, not of suppressing the liquor traffic entirely, but controlling it; controlling it along lines that as the years go by and we carry on active educational methods we may not only eliminate the abuses and the excesses that are frequently indulged in, but that we may change the attitude of our people on the use of alcoholic beverages altogether” (Ferguson 1927: 1).

By using these arguments the Government of Ontario was also able to point to the success of the Swedish Gothenburg system (see Blocker, Fahey, and Tyrrell 2003: 603–04), which relied on state-controlled dispensaries (government stores) as well as the licencing of taverns and hotels overseen by an independent commission acting at arm’s length from the government — a system already in place to varying degrees in Quebec, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Newfoundland, and the Yukon Territory (Catlin 1931: 206–08).


<< Prohibition and Temperance       Moderation       Politics of the Liquor Control Act 1927 >>