Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Political Science


T.J. Lewis




The laws of Ontario operate on the principle that individuals should govern their own conduct unless it affects others adversely. The laws are created to protect individuals and their property and to ensure that citizens respect the rights of others. However, laws are protected and entrenched which defy this principle by permitting and fostering intolerance.

This thesis addresses the local option laws of Ontario's liquor legislation which protect and legitimize invasion of personal liberty. These laws permit municipalities to prohibit or restrict retail sale of liquor within their boundaries by vote or by council decision. Local option has persisted throughout Ontario's history and is unlikely to be abolished despite the growing acceptance of liquor in society.

To explain the longevity of these law, J.R. Gusfield's approach to understanding moral crusades is used. Local option laws have become symbols of the status and influence of the sober, industrious middleclass of the 1800's who founded Ontario. The right to control drinking reassures people who adhere to the traditional values that their views are respected in society.

John Stuart Mill's proposed guidelines for handling potentially harmful commodities, like liquor, are revealed as being consistent with the intention of Ontario's liquor laws but inadequate for symbolic issues. If tolerance of personal liberty is to be acheived, then the issues must be transformed from evocative ones into quiescent ones. The study of local option is used to assess how a symbolic issue can be recast to induce people to tolerate the self-regarding pursuits of others.

McMaster University Library

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