Beer Over Ontario

ERLAND ECHLIN December 15 1934

Beer Over Ontario

ERLAND ECHLIN December 15 1934

Beer Over Ontario


IN MY LAST article I gave the observations, made on the spot, of my long tour around the province. In the hundred odd villages, towns and cities to which Maclean's had sent me I had questioned mayors, police chiefs, leading citizens, workers and unemployed about the new Beverage Rooms. What they told me indicated, rather to my surprise, that there was a genuine feeling against the Beverage Room system as it is working in Ontario; that this feeling was strong and widespread. The objections to the Beverage Rooms were many, but one chief complaint rose above all others—that after years of freedom from its menace, the corner saloon had returned.

While condemnation was general, there were, nevertheless, voices to be heard in favor of the system. They came from people who had gained, or were in a position to gain, from the change; from persons more or less indifferent to the question and from protagonists of personal liberty as

violent as the prohibitionists they opposed. No summary would be fair without giving them some consideration. They made certain claims for beer, Beverage Rooms and the system, and I will attempt to weigh them impartially.

Loudest of all the claims perhaps is the one to be found most frequently in the mouths of politicians— that drinking has been brought out into the open, from “behind the door’’ and out of the hotel bedroom.

My observation is that drinking in hotel rooms has been lessened, but only slightly, by the Beverage Rooms. As hotelkeepers know, this condition, peculiar to North America, depends but little on the availability of liquor. Compared with whisky, beer never was a bedroom drink, nor a convention, party, dinner or dance drink. Most social functions held in hotels, whether for two, or two thousand persons, still require rooms for their drinking convenience.

I talked to hotel managers and house detectives on this phase of the situation. Like the problem of women drinkers, it affects the larger centres rather than the towns. In Windsor, London, Ottawa, Hamilton and Toronto their story was much the same. None were as interested in the moral side of the question as in the amount of damage done to their rooms. The house detectives were inclined to argue that as long as there were no breakages, disturbances, or need for their services, bedroom drinking had been practically stopped. They all said that conditions in this respect had improved. Hotel managers qualified their replies to the effect that the rowdy crowd seemed to have thinned out and that there was less damage to rooms and less trouble than a year ago. One said :

"I’m satisfied that they are patronizing the Beverage Room. At dinners, dances and conventions hard stuff still remains the popular drink—and always will be—and it is still drunk in bedrooms, but they behave themselves pretty well.”

As a guest in the larger hotels, I noticed but little difference. The Beverage Rooms were full in the evenings and Saturdays; upstairs the “parties” carried on much as before. The entertainment rooms—that special section which most multi-storied hotels set aside for the evening’s coats, wraps, cocktails, after-dinner and dance drinks—still function.

The other kind of hidden drinking which, it is claimed, has now been brought out into the open is that of the parked motor car. County constables and highway police with whom I talked stated that "straight drinking parties” were rare compared to previous years. But there was still plenty of drinking on side roads and lanes. A traffic cop explained, “Fellows and girls park just the same as they’ve always done, and if any loosener is needed they’ve got whisky or gin; it’s a lot cheaper than it used to be.” On the other hand, most of the ones with whom I spoke felt that the Beverage Room has added to the hazard of the road. It has increased the necessity of watchfulness, for themselves—on motorcycles and in machines—as well as for others.

Big Profits, Low Wages

THE SECOND claim that Beverage Rooms would be a step forward in true temperance and decrease the consumption of spirits was supported by many honest citizens previous to July 22. Since then, while some still plead that the new system be given a chance, many others have changed their views. It is true that there may have been a decline in spirit consumption in September of $171,000, and a further one in October and November, but such declines are less than ten per cent of the increased amounts spent on beer.

It is said that opening the Beverage Rooms has helped the building industry and allied trades, equipment manufacturers, real estate, finance, mortgage and insurance companies. Certainly these interests have all taken part in

preparing places for Ontario to drink its beer. In every one of the 300 or more Beverage Rooms of the province that I visited, work had been done. In some it was only paint and minor carpentry; in others everything from complete redecoration, inside and out, to brand new hotel structures. Dilapidated old buildings have had their sagging faces lifted. After twenty years of neglect, they have blossomed again in 1934 as comer saloons.

Barbecue stands, florist and dressmakers’ shops, road houses, dance halls, boarding houses are transformed suddenly into hotels. A good part of the criticism of the new system comes from the public’s mistaken idea that Beverage Rooms were to have been confined to established hotels. No such intention is expressed anywhere in the Act. It specifically says:

“The Board, subject to the provisions of this Act and the regulations, may issue authorities for the sale of beer and wine or beer or wine in standard hotels and in oilier such premises as the regulations may provide and define.” (Liquor Control Act, Part III, 69A-1.)

Thus, beer parlors may crop up any time, anywhere, providing that they have for public use, “one lobby, one dining room. . . four bedrooms for guests, one water closet and one bathroom.” For towns and cities, add twro more bedrooms and a water closet exclusively for women.

In the installation of these adjuncts of the Beverage Room —wh^ich, in many cases, might just as well be painted on the “Hotel” sign for all that they are needed or used—much material and money have been expended. Estimates run from $500,000 to $1,500,000. The dollars have been easy to get, for no business, according to its history, is more profitable.

Large numbers of men, it is claimed, have been employed to so equip the province, but as yet the Ontario Department of Labor has no figures to support that general statement. There has been no particular demand for men from the Employment Service of Canada. From the local reports gathered in the province and from hotelkeepers, I made an estimate which the above authorities agreed was probably close to the actual figures. About 12,000 men in the building and allied trades have had four weeks extra employment. Some 3,500 men have permanent jobs as waiters, truck drivers and helpers in direct connection with the Beverage Rooms. Which makes a dent of about one per cent in the total number of Ontario’s unemployed.

Off-setting this is the fact that an extra $1,000,000 a month is being taken out of the province’s wages—presumably savings, food, clothing and necessities—to be spent on beer. A long view, albeit a pessimistic one, might indicate that, unless there is a rapid recovery in all lines, decreased consumption of necessities because of increased consumption of beer, will be followed by additional unemployment. I am no economist, but I know that in these days when most men are poor the casual extra dollar spent in the beer parlor is one dollar taken out of general trade or savings.

And among the poorest of today’s poor men are beer’s own handmaidens, the waiters themselves. I heard that some were paid as low as seven cents an hour; many told me that their wage for a twelve-hour day was an even dollar. Thirty dollars a month is supposed to be the standard—with the rest made up on tips. The more sales the greater the chance for tips. It can be imagined that the hotelkeeper is satisfied with this condition.

Enquiring around for the cause of these low wages, I found none. According to the Liquor Commissioner, beer costs the hotelkeeper just under ten cents for a small bottle. It is sold for twenty cents. Draught beer, by the same reckoning, costs four cents for a ten-ounce glass which retails for a dime. This hundred per cent mark-up must cover all expenses of operation, but it is the source of much complaint.

Part of the agitation for Beverage Rooms was based on its benefits to the working man. This alleged contribution to his welfare, contentment and happiness rested on the supposition that, being unable to afford as much as a case of beer at a time, he was entitled to be able to buy it by the glass. But no workman thought that for this expensive beer an inferior draught type was to be substituted at a higher price—at least twenty per cent higher—or that the Beverage Rooms would ask him almost eighty per cent more for the same bottled quality.

Continued, on page 46

Beer Over Ontario

Continued from page 14

Quebec border drinkers indignantly showed me quarts that retailed fifteen cents cheaper in the next province. In Windsor they just said: “Let’s go across the river; you gel four times as much beer for your money.”

This, indeed, I found to be; true,—twenty ounces for five cents. Through the centre of the province the opinion was, simply, that the beer was far too dear. In Hearst I asked how they sold it for a dime when it was that price next door to the brewery 60 miles away.

“They give it to us a dollar a barrel cheaper to make up for the freight,” was the reply.

Possibility of Growth

I WAS gradually sensing that the price of beer and the profit on beer had a decided bearing on the whole question, and made up my mind to look a little more closely at the figures. The last published report of the Dominion Bureau of Statistics showed that Ontario’s breweries and distilleries sold annually to the public of the province some $29,250,000 worth of their various products. (Jut of this I had to find the cost of manufacture—which would be the total of the interest on their capital, salaries, wages and price of raw materials.

Ontario’s thirty-odd breweries and five distilleries form a highy organized and wellestablished interest with a capital of $55,000,000. Five per cent on this capital is $2,750,000. In salaries they pay approximately $1,890,000 or about $3,750 a year to each of their 484 executives. Their 2,000 male and female workers receive somewhat less than that—$1,676,000, or $16 a week. The total salan' and wage bill is, therefore, about $3,500,0CÍ0. Materials and ingredients cost $8,250,000, bringing their total costs to $14,500,000. This, as shown above, was sold to the public for almost double what it cost. Out of this amount over cost, nearly $15,000,000, must come depreciation, resenes and profits for about 1,000 liquor dispensing establishments of the province. On a capital of $55,000,000 there seems to be ample margin of safety to allow for growth.

It is this possibility of growth which concerns Ontario’s temperance organizations. There is not a word in the Act limiting the number of Beverage Rooms or clubs. As there has been more criticism of the change from Government Control to open sale than of any measure in recent years, expansion may be slow. Already certain authorities, or licenses, have been cancelled and the hours shortened. But the discontent did not abate, and I was still not satisfied that I had reached the root cause of the conditions under complaint. In view of my own observations in all parts of the province that so many citizens considered the Beverage Rooms a step backward, I wanted to know why the former individual permit system— under which eighty-five per cent of Ontario’s adults never bought any liquor—was changed to allow the present wide open sale.

There were three men who should know— the former Premier, Mr. Henry ; the present incumbent, Mr. Hepburn: and Liquor Commissioner Odette. To these three I went for my information.

The Original Intention

Xyf R. HENRY received my enquiry with 4V1 courtesy and patience, but demurred somewhat about an out-of-office public statement. I will quote him verbatim, but the italics are my own. He told me:

“At the time of the change in our liquor laws in 1927, Mr. Ferguson had intended something in the line of beverage rooms and beer and wine at meals in standard hotels. But the change suggested seemed more than was acceptable to the people generally. Consequently we dropped these questions which we took up last sessions.

“The success of liquor control ivas apparent

to most people. Consequently I took to the widening of the Act with the idea that the changes would tend to reduce the consumption of the harder liquor in favor of beer and the lighter wines.

“We retained all the local option features which had met with so much favor in many parts of the province. The regulations that we had in mind for the control of the distribution would have retained the sale of all liquors, beer and wine included, under the Board. The hotels would only have acted as our agents. The private sale would still have been prohibited. We never considered the abolition of the beer permit except where the purchase was by the glass. Now we have no record or control of beer bought in quantities. With this I entirely disagree.”

Mr. Henry, naturally enough, does not approve of the manner in which the Act of his Government has been carried out. In the coming session he will not unlikely be called upon to take a rather full responsibility for the present conditions, because in the Act framed under him standard hotels are not limited as to number, it does not say that beer will be confined to existing hotels, and there is present that sky-limit clause “and other premises”—for which authorities may be issued.

What Mr. Henry does say that is extremely important is that, in 1927, it seemed that beverage rooms would not be acceptable to the people generally and that, in spite of the admitted success of Liquor Control for seven years, the Act was altered to permit beverage rooms so that the consumption of hard liquor would be reduced in favor of beer. Or so that the cause of temperance would be advanced. Or so that the sale of beer would be increased. Readers may take their choice.

The Premier’s Position

FROM MR. HENRY I went to his successor, Mitchell F. Hepburn. The thirtyeight-year-old Prime Minister’s outer office was full, his inner office was full and his secretary distracted, but no trace of this penetrated the double doors of the fern-decorated, oriental-rugged oasis of the new Premier. Mr. Hepburn sat behind three separate foothigh stacks of mail as coolly and pleasantly as though he were even then enjoying his month’s holiday.

“We have Beverage Rooms in the Province of Ontario because of an Act passed by. . he began, and then recited what seemed like the whole legislative enactment.

“Yes; but why?” I wanted to know. “Why have we got that amendment to the Act?” “Ah-ha! Why?” The smile that’s never far from the Premier’s face came back. “For that question you will have to go to my predecessor in office. I believe the former Government felt that the time had come to ease up on the situation; in fact I believe Mr. Henry’s words were that a ‘loosening’ was desirable.”

That was all Mr. Hepburn had to say about what I was most anxious to know. The other features of the Government supervision of liquor he discussed freely.

“It is our hardest task. When we pledged ourselves to enact the former Government’s legislation, we took liquor out of politics. There will be no plebiscite. Ours is the only fair way; any section that doesn’t want beer can go dry. What could be fairer than that? Windsor—you know conditions there. Is it fair to let some other section of the province vote that district dry when it wants to be wet? No ! The remedy is in the hands of the people. Any section that wants to, can vote itself dry and we will see that they don’t get any liquor.”

Beer for Revenue

rT"'HE THIRD MAN I quote is Liquor Commissioner Odette. In his waiting room a daily paper was lying open, appro-

priately enough, at a violent attack on the whole new régime, the spearhead of the offensive being the conduct of the Board. While waiting I read the categorical statements of the head of the Government that “We are not greatly concerned or perturbed by all this ballyhoo. . . Every newspaper in Ontario can fill its front page from now on until Doomsday with criticism, but this law will get fair trial. . . There will be no plebiscite.” Put in a proper frame of mind by these sentences, I went in to meet the one-man head of Ontario’s eleventh industry.

The Liquor Commissioner is short, strong, stout, full-faced; brusque and determined. He is fifty years of age and sits alone at a big desk at the far end of his enormous, highceilinged office. From here are issued the “authorities” that profit their recipients, and the “headaches and heartaches,” the cancellations. For there is no appeal from the rulings of Edmund George Odette.

Mr. Odette is of French-Canadian and Scottish descent, an excellent example of the pre-war type of full living, self-made men. Behind him stretches a long connection with the automobile industry as a maker of tops and bodies; a shorter political history as mayor of Tilbury and Member of Parliament. When Premier Hepburn selected him as the sole official of the Liquor Board, he chose a personal friend in whom he had confidence.

Our conversation dwelt almost entirely on the complaints I had heard from the public.

“Has the Board any control over the price of beer?”


“How is it that one Hamilton house can sell beer for a nickel?”

“I hadn’t heard about that.”

“This Beverage Room sells its fourteenounce size for ten cents and an eight-ounce glass for five.”

“Competition, I suppose,” Mr. Odette replied. “You wouldn’t expect the same amount for the same money where conditions of service differ, would you?”

“Then the Board has nothing to say about size of glasses, amount served or price?”

“No, that’s up to the individual authority holder.”

We talked about Windsor and the special conditions resulting from competition with Detroit. Then the North. I was bound to admit that, aside from the Border Cities and some public dissatisfaction, there were few complaints on ordinary operation. On the whole, the Beverage Rooms, as they existed, obeyed the law well. This pleased him.

“Were you, yourself, Mr. Odette, ever in the hotel business?” I asked him.

“No, never,” was the reply. “All my life has been spent in the automobile business.” “Around the province, Mr. Odette,” I went on, “I heard a good many objections to the quality of some of the beer. Has the Board any standard?”

“No,” he said, “we are only concerned with the amount of alcohol. That must not exceed our figures.”

“The Board, then, has nothing to do with any other ingredients?”

“No, that is up to the brewers. Competition, I should think, would take care of that.”

The rules and regulations of the Board are meticulous to the last degree. They cover everything from the darkening of hotel dining rooms between meals to the washing of napkins. In the thirty-six-page booklet supplied to hotels as a digest of the Board’s orders, there are three parts, ten sections and hundreds of instructions. From my talk with the Commissioner I was satisfied that the letter of the law would be strictly enforced. . We had drifted into generalities when I asked my last question.

“Well, what did we change the system for? Why have we got beer back in the province of Ontario?”

Mr. Odette hesitated a moment before replying, then said stoutly:

“I should say we’ve got it for revenue purposes. Certainly, as far as I am con-

cerned, I’m here to make money for the province.”

On the beer issue Mr. Odette is no hypocrite.

Subsidizing Possible Critics

ON TOP of Mr. Henry’s rather vague statement of the reason for the return of the saloons and the Premier’s legalistic reply, came Liquor Commissioner Odette’s outspoken explanation of his position. In his view, liquor is back for the profit there is in it.

If Mr. Odette’s statement accurately reflects the policy of the Government, then the reason for the existence of Beverage Rooms is not control but sales; not regulation but profits. Profits all the way through from the brewer and winery to the hotelkeeper and Government.

If this be so, then the attitude of the Commissioner toward complaints is more easily understood. It would explain the granting of licenses in the face of heavy petitions against them, and the refusal of local option referendums on technicalities. And it would also explain the direct encouragement given to increased sale through the sharing of profits with the municipalities— as must be the intent of the twanty per cent bribe. Otherwise, why single out liquor for the rebate?

How far this principle has departed from those of the previous Act may be judged by these excerpts from a private memorandum of the former Liquor Board prepared for the instruction of foreign visitors:

“The key-word of the law is ‘Control,’ not sales; not only is nothing done to persuade purchase of liquor or to flaunt temptation in the face of possible customers, but permittees are impressed at every tum in favor of self-control and moderation. . .

“While naturally considerable profit accrues from the provincial monopoly in liquor, profit, as already intimated, is not the primary aim but ‘Control,’ and hence emphasis is here laid upon that ¡store vendors being given to understand that satisfactory service is not proved by increasing sales and profits, so much as by evidence of improved social conditions, absence of disorder and drunkenness, etc., in their districts.”

Now if Mr. Odette is correct, “control” has given way to “profit.” Breweries may pay low wages, cut the quality of their product; hotelkeepers may maintain waiters at $30 a month and force sales on customers, while behind them stands a Government which is subsidizing sources of criticism with twenty per cent of the profits.

The hotelmen, who incidentally are not a part of the brewery-Govemment inner circle, early saw the danger of the new' system, as this extract from their owrn magazine, The Canadian Hotel Review and Restaurant, shows (my italics):

“And yet, when the Government w'orks out a solution to that problem, and even in the face of considerable public sentiment decides to give them (hotelkeepers) a break, there are among the ranks of the hotelmen many who are so selfish, so stupid, so grossly ignorant and near-sighted that they start right in to abuse their new-found privilege. They won’t ‘keep hotel.’ To them, it would appear, the hotel business is the same old racket of ‘gel ’em drunk, get their money and throw ’em out,’ as in the days of old. With such conditions prevailing in the barroom days, it is small wonder that an honorable business became in the eyes of too many people a blot on the nation.. With such conditions again rearing their ugly heads, it will be little wonder if the hotels again fall into general disrepute. . .”

A Step Backward

/ELL, w'hat is the solution?” Premier W Hepburn asked me the question. I could not tell him its final outcome, but

did not hesitate to suggest what seemed like the next logical step if there is any sincere desire on the part of the Government to reduce drinking. A number of leading thinkers of the province had propounded it to me, notably Principal Fyfe of Queen’s University. Later, in a press interview, Sir Robert Falconer endorsed it. The plan is, simply, that the Government take over all breweries, distilleries and wineries, make their products and sell them through their own stores in accordance with the best interests of the people of the province. Thus at one stroke the Government could achieve two opposed ends—control and all the profits.

Mr. Hepburn’s reaction was swift. ‘‘I would be unalterably opposed to such a measure.”

Mr. Odette said; “That would be a Federal matter, wouldn’t it? Besides, where would we get the money?”

Money has been found for other government undertakings. There is little doubt it could be found for this.

It is admitted in every country that liquor needs control. It cannot be controlled by half measures. Sudden prohibition has proved itself not to be the solution ; reopening the saloons must seem to the unprejudiced citizen a step backward.

The standards of Canada are high. The effects of alcohol in all forms are, perhaps, felt less here than in any other comparative country of the world. But it seems to me that it is the solemn duty of every legislator to maintain or raise those standards and not to lower them.

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