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

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis


Politics of the Liquor Control Act 1927

In October 1924 the Conservative government in Ontario under Howard Ferguson, who was elected with liquor law reform as a part of his platform, commissioned yet another plebiscite (Ontario’s 4th vote on the issue since 1900) regarding state-controlled liquor sales with the hope of overturning prohibition in the province. Public opinion again supported prohibition; but the results posted in the Ontario plebiscite of 1924 — 51.4 percent in favour of prohibition — were interpreted differently than were previous pro-prohibition votes. Although the provincial government’s initial official response directly after the vote was that “the OTA [Ontario Temperance Act] would remain upon the statute book, and that there would be absolutely no concession to the ‘wets,’” within four months the government’s opinion had changed ("Ontario Stays Dry", The Globe Oct. 25th 1924). Instead, by 1926 the vote somehow signalled to the Conservatives that a significant shift had occurred in the sentiment towards temperance in the province, and the government announced that there would be “no more plebiscites.” Cabinet would “take all responsibility” (Ferguson 1926). In a later speech directed to “the people of the Province,” Premier Ferguson argued that “the repeated votes upon the issue of temperance” indicated “a marked falling off in the sentiment of support of the Ontario Temperance Act” and represented a “significant shift” in public support (Ibid.: 6). This finding, he surmised, justified the government’s already drafted plan to create a commission for the controlled sale of liquor within the province.

In the face of public opposition, the provincial government (who saw liquor as the sole means of achieving a balanced budget) sought to pass previously drafted legislation for state-controlled sales (Ferguson 1926). Criticism of the bill came from all parts of the political spectrum – from teetotallers who argued that the previous referendums in 1902, 1919, and 1920 had displayed a consistent public will against the sale of liquor, to brewers who argued against the tremendous powers allocated to the board, which placed the LCBO’s authority above “review either by a court of th[e] land or the government of th[e] province” (Liquor Control Act S.O. 1927. c.70 s.25.2).

While the Ontario government first argued that it would be open to sensible arguments from all sides, criticism of the new liquor control bill increased in severity with each reading. In fact, criticism was so intense after the second reading that dissenting voices appeared from within the government’s own party (Ferguson 1927, 3). Still, the third and final reading of the Liquor Control Act took place without warning in the presence of only a handful of members of Parliament.


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