When we returned from Washington, D.C. in May 1993, Canada was in a shambles. There was a recession, the government of the day was at a nadir, and housing prices had fallen 50 percent. I no longer smoked, but my late wife did, so I was in a corner store to buy cigarettes. Asked the clerk, “How much do you want to pay?” Turns out he had legitimate packages where the taxes had been collected but also gray market items that cost much less. Eventually two cigarette companies were fined $1.15 billion for their part in that contraband market.
I don’t know who is running the shadowy show these days, but cheap cigarettes are back. According to the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco, one-third of all the cigarettes bought in Ontario are illegal, costing government $1 billion in foregone revenue. If Doug Ford is looking for “efficiencies,” as he so often talked about during the election campaign, here’s a place to direct police attention.
And while you’re at it, premier, how about the rampant theft from LCBO outlets where staff are instructed not to stop even the most obvious shoplifters. What a foolish system as we all stand politely in line waiting to pay while someone strolls out with two or three bottles for free. I was in the Yorkville branch of the Toronto Public Library recently and even they had a security guard. If every LCBO outlet hired security for $15 an hour it wouldn’t take long to stop the losses and raise profits to an amount that no one can even estimate.
Meanwhile, I can only hope the premier knows what he’s doing about “efficiencies.” He promised a 4 percent reduction in government spending. That’s an interesting number because it’s the same as consulting firm McKinsey & Co. uses to win business clients. But achieving such across-the-board cost reductions in the corporate sector usually includes laying off employees, something that the premier has said he will not do. Maybe all those fired public servants could form vigilante gangs to clean up the flagrant wrongdoing in the cigarette and booze businesses. No one else seems capable.