Monday, November 30, 2015

Stop trashing the LCBO!

By A.M.

The holidays are just around the corner, which means many different things. Brutal meals with relatives you hate, mountains of credit card debt, and a lot of drinking. For most Canadians, that results in lots and lots of trips to your friendly neighbourhood liquor store. Quebec has its SAQ; Ontario has its LCBO; British Columbia has its Liquor Distribution Branch. To the intense chagrin of most Ontario drinkers (or so it seems), our system of alcohol delivery doesn't appear to be changing in any fundamental way. I want to go a little outside the box here, and give a defense of the publicly-owned liquor store.

Within a ten minute walk from my house, in different directions, there are three LCBO locations. Each store, whether consciously or not, caters to different demographics. One stocks lots of tall cans and coolers (for teenagers, I suppose), one focuses on wine, and the other - a sort of superstore - has loads of craft beer and expensive liquors. This is something that I have yet to see Ontario's private beer monopoly, The Beer Store, attempt to replicate in any noticeable way. And why would it? It's got a lock on the beer market and precisely zero incentive to change.

Whether shopping near my downtown Toronto home, out in the suburbs or deep in rural Ontario, my experience of the LCBO has been overwhelmingly positive. The staff -- while constantly stocking shelves, drawing up orders and handling cashier duties -- is knowledgeable and attentive. Many stores have a resident beer or wine expert on hand -- and sometimes both! Notwithstanding the many times I was refused service for being obviously underage (those were the days!), my feeling is that the LCBO is at least as good at customer service as, say, Best Buy or Loblaw's. Score one for Big Brother.

Much more importantly, the LCBO is one of the last vestiges of reliable, well-paying work in the retail sector. Workers start off there making $14-15/hour, which is unfortunately quite far above Ontario's current minimum wage. This is unheard of in the private retail sector. There are, of course, numerous problems with the LCBO employment practices. Workers can only get permanently hired after working two ‘fixed terms’ at an LCBO store. Those fixed terms are from May-September and mid-November to New Year's. After jumping that hurdle, you can then apply to be considered for a permanent position.

This policy is insanity. It is but one of several nonsensical practices that gets thrown at the wall when ill-informed people trash the LCBO. But really, doesn’t every company engage utterly brutal hiring and firing practices? You can be fired at any point in your first three months of employment at a new job in Ontario, for any reason. It’s almost as if the LCBO is merely reflecting the current neo-liberal trend of precarious work…or maybe it’s simply that the public service is incompetent and we should sell the remnants of it to private interests. That must be it. Privatization, after all, has worked out so extraordinarily well for the average worker over the last thirty years!

And what of public safety? In most discussions surrounding Ontario’s liquor laws, we hear a lot about the rights of consumers to buy alcohol at their local grocery or convenience store. This is not a meaningful goal for any Crown corporation. Simply put, you do not have a ‘right’ to buy alcohol in the same way that you have the right to clean water or nourishing food. Alcohol is a completely extraneous expense, akin to ice cream or a pack of Skittles. For a small and obvious part of the population, it’s a vicious addiction. The LCBO, as part of its social responsibility platform, maintains a commitment to not serve the intoxicated. Absent any sort of meaningful public policy to reduce and eliminate addiction, there is very little the LCBO can do to end the misuse and abuse of alcohol. It does, however, do a pretty good job of keeping alcohol away from the visibly intoxicated. True to form, nearly all commentators and free-market types ignore this vital component of the LCBO.

That and the fact that the LCBO – even considering that it only controls 20% of beer sales – profits the province to the tune of $2 billion annually. This is then used (ostensibly) on social programs, infrastructure and the like.

As for the LCBO's much-discussed retail issues, I can certainly identify a few. First and most obviously are the ridiculous hours of operation. The three LCBO locations nearest to me all have vastly different closing times. Even on a busy Saturday night, like Halloween this year, they were all closed by 10 P.M (and one closed at 8!). It's obviously not the biggest inconvenience in the world to have to buy liquor during the day, at least for me, but many people work weekends and late nights. Especially downtown, many people don't get off of work until after the LCBO closes. Aside from being a stupid idea from the perspective of seeking a profit, this also violates the spirit of the LCBO's emphasis on equity and social access. The LCBO ought to have consistent hours across all of its locations.

It should also have more stores. Liquor is, for better or worse, extremely popular. People in all areas want to drink, and if the LCBO wants to keep Ontarians on its side, it should cater to them more than it does. Many elderly Ontarians, and those with disabilities, cannot walk extended distances to obtain a bottle of wine or a six-pack. I suggest that the LCBO also implement a home delivery system that could be subsidized by its own profits. This could include a Toronto Public Library style "product sharing" program, wherein customers can reserve hard-to-find items at their local store and have it delivered. If it can work for the TPL, it surely can work for another, equally successful public entity!

Minor quibbles aside, Ontarians ought to be very proud of their LCBO. This is a Crown corporation that returns billions of dollars to us every year. It works, however imperfectly, to promote responsible consumption of alcohol. It also provides (relatively) good jobs across the province, with an emphasis on hiring those from marginalized social groups. In these neo-liberal times, we need social ownership more than ever. I encourage you to look past the small convenience of beer and wine in corner stores, and support the LCBO!

A.M. is a writer. 

See also: Why not make Ontario's Beer Store public?

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Trades and Labor Congress of Canada: An Historical Review 1873-1949

The Trades and Labor Congress of Canada (TLC) was a Canada wide trade union federation that eventually merged with the industrial union federation, the Canadian Congress of Labour, in 1956 to form the Canadian Labour Congress.

This historical overview of its formative period right up to 1949 is a fascinating piece of Canadian social, political and labour history that was produced by the congress itself to give its interpretation of its evolution to that point.

The booklet relates the events around the TLC's formation, talks about its political activities and the reforms it fought for, lists the locations of its conventions, the names of its Executive Officers, delegates to international trade union meetings, etc.

It outlines the important role unions played in fighting child labour and for better working conditions, as well as in the struggle for minimum wage and maximum hour legislation, annual vacations, old age pensions, labour codes, and holidays like Labour Day among other critical reforms.

The TLC's platforms of 1898 and 1935 were ahead of their time in calling for things like proportional representation and equal pay for women. They also had a very radical economic vision that included calls for public ownership of utilities, the nationalization of the banks and the establishment of co-operatives.

The platforms also included, however, racist planks calling in 1898 for the exclusion of Chinese immigrants from Canada -- a plank that in 1935 was amended to call for the "Exclusion of all races that cannot be properly assimilated into the national life of Canada". These stand as examples of how deeply ingrained and widespread racist narratives and views were at the time and as a warning against racist, xenophobic or "nationalist" narratives about immigrants, refugees and foreign workers today -- narratives that cannot be allowed to reassert themselves on the left or in progressive groups or organizations on any level or in any way.

(Click on images to enlarge)

 See also: "Stories about working at the Goodyear Plant in the Lakeshore, as told by workers" -- A union remembrance

See also: BC NDP posts a meme about "foreign" workers -- Xenophobes show up in approval

Friday, November 27, 2015

20 Vintage Toronto Streetscapes of Yonge St, Yorkville, Kensington Market & More! (Plus one bonus one of Oshawa).

A great view of A&A and Sam's!
As anyone who follows this blog knows, I am a big fan of both vintage postcards and streetscape photography. I am especially thrilled when I find examples of these two things combined.

Two previous times a South Etobicoke antique/vintage store called Treasure Hunt yielded some prize rewards of examples of the two combined -- and local examples at that.

And now, again, I have found more incredible postcards there. So here are 20 more vintage Toronto postcard streetscapes (as well as a CNE view) and, as an added bonus, one of Oshawa!

(Click on images to enlarge)

A truly remarkable view as it shows the CN Tower while still under construction!

From the back "Take a daytime or evening stroll along Bloor Street West in the heart of Canada's second largest city, and so to Markham St., where the bright colours of "olde world" shops beckon." 
Back, of course, when Toronto was still a smaller city than Montreal.

I love this shot and the modernist CN train design.

This one is an artist's rendition of what was the city's tallest tower at the time.

From the back: "Elizabeth St. in downtown Toronto is the centre of Chinatown and the location of the annual Dragon Mall, a fascinating pot-pourri of food, entertainment and Cantonese culture". 

Yonge St.

Back when Yonge St, was pedestrian only. From the back: "Exciting boutiques, fashionable shops, fine foods as well as fabulous entertainment, make downtown Yonge Street the focal point for fun and excitement" 

Yorkville when it was still a hippie hangout!

Kensington Market

I love this photo which has an almost film noir feel to it. 
The bus depot...a generation ago.

Hippie Yorkville again. Note the couple sitting outside their apartment window on the ledge with their baby!

As a bonus...a vintage Oshawa postcard with a view of downtown, St. George's Memorial Church and, of course, the North Main Office of GM at the time!

See also: 10 Vintage Toronto Postcard Streetscapes (and one bonus one of Port Credit!)

See also: 11 More Vintage Streetscape Postcards of Toronto, Etobicoke, Hamilton & Oakville

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Beef Shank Potato Carrot Dutch Oven Casserole -- Revisiting an 80's Leftover Roast Beef Recipe

Today we are going to take a look at a vintage 1985 recipe from an Ontario community cookbook for "Roast Beef Hash" and reinvent it a bit.

I came across this recipe in the St. Paul's 25th Anniversary "Our Favourite Recipes" cookbook, part of a type of fundraising cookbook that I love and that examples of which we have looked at before on our cookbook TBT features. This one was to aid a church in Golden Valley, Ontario. The recipe immediately appealed to me as easy, thrifty and likely really good.

While I think the recipe would work fine on its own, and probably would turn out to be quite tasty, I thought a few changes might make it even better than it sounded on paper while keeping the essence of the original. These included using beef shank in place of leftovers and cooking it stove-top in a Dutch Oven instead of in a casserole.

First, to keep it thrifty we are going to use cuts of beef shank. This is a very inexpensive cut of meat, usually bought bone-in, that can be truly delicious though it requires long cooking times.

Take the beef shank and season it liberally with salt and pepper to taste. For this recipe we used four shanks. Once seasoned, dredge the shanks in flour until nicely coated on both sides.

Meanwhile, heat some extra virgin olive oil in the bottom of a Dutch Oven to medium-high on the stove top and brown the shanks for about one minute a side so that they they look as pictured. Remove them and set aside as you brown the others.

When they are all browned place all the shanks back into the Dutch Oven without draining any of the juices. Add 4 cloves of minced garlic, enough water to just cover the shanks, and an appropriate amount of onion soup mix. So, for example, if you use four cups of water, as we did, then use as many packets of the soup mix as needed according to their instructions as if you were making the soup.

Bring this to a boil and then lower temperature, cover and simmer for 3 hours.

After three hours have passed add one large diced onion. Cover and simmer for another half hour. Then add 2-3 potatoes chopped rustically into several pieces each and add two diced carrots. Again, cover and simmer for another half-hour.

At this point the beef should be fall apart moist and the vegetables nicely cooked and flavoured. Top with some chopped parsley.

Serve over egg noodles (if desired) in a bowl with crusty bread and/or with rice on the side. Goes perfectly with a table red and garden salad.

Inexpensive and a crowd pleaser! Enjoy.

See also: The Oliver: Reinventing a 50's Colossal Salami Sandwich -- Vintage Cookbook TBT