Abstract: Why Did Canada Nationalize Liquor Sales in the 1920s? A Political Economy Model

Ruth Dupre and Desire Vencatachellum


While the American episode of alcohol prohibition (1919-1933) is notorious and has been extensively studied, very little work has been done in a comparative international perspective. We contribute to this comparative international analysis by focusing here on the different path chosen by Canada in the 1920s. At the same time that its American neighbor went "bone dry," the Canadian provinces, one by one, starting with Quebec and British Columbia in 1921 and ending with Ontario in 1927, set up public liquor sale systems still with us today. This paper addresses the question of why and how did the Canadian provinces do this. The choice they faced between prohibition and nationalization can be analyzed with a political economy model by comparing the strength and stakes of the "drys" and the "wets" in the different provinces. We focus here on the two leaders, Quebec and British Columbia, contrasting them to Ontario. We will pursue the other provinces later on.