QUEEN’S PARK – Provincial Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak wants the government to get out of the booze business, and says it’s time to end the LCBO and Beer Store monopolies, should he be elected Premier in the next election.

With the Liberty Village LCBO as his backdrop, Hudak addressed a crowd Tuesday morning, explaining that the provincial government is spending $100-million dollars to build new liquor stores – money which he would prefer is spent on core services like health care and education.

“Why is it that governments in Ontario, or the Liberals and the NDP don’t trust Ontarians?” he asked. “If they can, in New York, buy beer and wine at a grocery store or a private store, they do that in Michigan, they can do it in Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia. Why can’t we do that here in the province of Ontario?”

“I could go over the border and I could buy beer, wine at a corner store. But when I come back in Ontario, somehow the government doesn’t trust me to make my own responsible decision when I drive a few kilometres away?” he said.

“It just doesn’t make sense in 2012. This isn’t the 1920′s when the system was designed.”

Hudak is pushing for full or partial sale of the LCBO (or some of its stores), and would like beer and wine to be sold in corner and grocery stores. While he doesn’t have any concrete numbers, he believes selling the crown agency will actually increase revenue. However, he has no plans to cut taxes on alcohol.

He’s not the first Ontario politician to bring up the issue. Mike Harris said he would do it back in 1995 but it never happened.

The Liberals say they have looked at the possibility but didn’t want to lose the tax revenue. They say the liquor agency has brought in almost $5-billion over the past year.

Alcohol is a huge business in Ontario, with the LCBO selling almost $5 billion worth of booze every year.

Hudak says his motivation is helping to reduce the $14 billion provincial deficit.

Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein promised to do it during an election in 1993, and actually did sell off the province’s liquor stores after he was elected.

Hudak’s words come only a day after stating that it’s time for the Ontario government to get out of the gambling business.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s comments on Hudak’s plan:

“We’re seeing a lot of recycled ideas coming from Hudak’s PCs.  They campaigned on privatization in ’95 and the only thing they really sold was Highway 407 and that was a bad deal for Ontario.

Our government looked at a version of a sale a couple of years ago and decided against it. Hudak makes the sale of Ontario’s assets like the LCBO and the OLG sound great because you get a few billion dollars up front. These organizations generate billions of dollars in cash every year that help pay for schools and hospitals. Selling an asset for a short-term gain without anything to replace the revenue a few years out. These are world-class businesses that Ontarians have paid for this expertise to be built up over decades. Also, Crown Corps do not pay income tax. Once sold, they would have to pay tax to the federal government.  That reduces the value of the sale price. Hudak needs to answer some questions about how his vision would lead to the responsible sales of alcohol. Hudak spins these tales that make these things sound so easy. They’re not. They’re complicated and as usual, he’s not doing his homework.”