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

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis


Why Surveillance?

The LCBO was not simply established as a business administration for the sale of liquor. It was from the start an institution entrusted with a serious moral mandate and social control function based on political necessity, corporate methodologies, extralegal power, and prejudices. It was inspired by temperance discourses but transformed into a bureaucratic entity. Specifically, LCBO policy was shaped to address moral issues surrounding temperance by adopting arguments regarding moderation and strict control.

In light of the lingering strength of temperance morality in the 1920s, as well as the centrality of moderation/control arguments within the government, the formation of the LCBO and the regulation of the government’s sale of liquor was pressed to address two key points. First, “if the Government was expected to be returned at the next and succeeding elections they had to make their law effective,” that is they specifically needed to show that their regulations were effective in controlling sales and intemperate behaviour. Second, the government could not permit “it to be shown that revenue [was being generated] from the ruination of families or creating drunkards” (Willison 1924). As the new Liquor Control Board was formed, the government took these points as a virtual blueprint of action to develop the LCBO around the firm concepts of strict control of sales and, more importantly, control over the morality and visibility of liquor consumption (Ferguson 1926, 1927).

Prohibition and Temperance
– Historically Ontario passed through a period of prohibition between 1916 and 1927. Facing the lingering presence of the particular morality of the temperance movement which depicted drinking as a necessary evil, corrupter of morals and the exploitation of weak willed individuals, the government was forced to address temperance values when creating the LCBO. (Read More)

Moderation – Moderation was the name given to a set of arguments that were adopted to counter temperance arguments. Specifically, moderation accepted some of the foundations of temperance arguments but rejected that liquor corrupted all people equally. They argued that alcohol in moderation would not result necessarily in social corruption but that certain types of people who were more susceptible to the social problems of alcohol needed an enforced prohibition. (Read More)

Politics of the Liquor Control Act 1927 – When the Ferguson government sought to end prohibition in Ontario and form the LCBO there was significant opposition. For the most part people questioned the power allocated to the LCBO and its status to develop regulations that were above the law. (Read More)