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Government warns retailers against price gouging

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Ontario is preparing an order to fight what Premier Doug Ford is calling “disgusting” price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic, while the province ramps up its testing capacity to handle the growing number of infections.

Details of the order were not immediately available, but Ford said anyone price gouging after the order goes through will be “done.”

“A message to anyone who price gouges: We’re coming after you,” Ford said Thursday. “We’re coming after you hard. I’m going to protect the people of this province and the price gouging, we’re going to put this order through cabinet and they’re done. They’re going to be gone.”

The vast majority of companies are taking care of employees and customers during this crisis, Ford said, but he is “furious” that there are some bad actors.

“That hits a nerve, when people are being taken advantage of by companies.”

He specifically mentioned Pusateri’s, a specialty foods store, that had been charging $30 for Lysol disinfecting wipes, which have been in short supply in many stores.

“That’s disgusting, absolutely disgusting,” Ford said.

Pusateri’s apologized, saying it was a mistake and that anyone who bought those wipes can get a full refund.

“While no excuse, our stores are facing immense pressure on all levels of operation,” president and CEO Frank Luchetta said in a statement. “As a result of this mounting pressure, critical elements were overlooked including the incorrect pricing of this product.”

The order, already in the works before the Pusateri’s incident, would fall under the province’s Emergency Management Act, said a spokeswoman for the premier.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s alcohol regulator announced Thursday that restaurants and bars can temporarily sell alcohol with food takeout and delivery orders.

Ford said it was something the industry had requested.

“These folks are hurting so badly,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea if people don’t have to leave their homes.”


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C-stores deemed essential businesses in Ontario

C-stores are among the retail operations permitted to remain open in Ontario in the wake of the Province’s decision to close all non-essential businesses for 14 days.

In a list published by the government this evening, c-stores were mentioned specifically: “Businesses engaged in the retail and wholesale sale of food, pet food and supplies, and household consumer products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation and essential operations of residences and businesses, including grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, markets and other similar retailers.”

The Ontario government’s full list of essential businesses can be found here.


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Ontario and Quebec ordering non-essential businesses to close

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford is ordering the closure of all non-essential businesses in Ontario to help deal with the spread of COVID-19.

He says the order will be effective Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. and will be in place for at least 14 days.

Ford says the next 36 hours will give non-essential businesses the chance to prepare.

He says he will release the list of businesses Tuesday that will be allowed to stay open, but food will remain on the grocery store shelves and people will still have access to medication.

The premier says it was a tough decision, but now is not the time for half measures.

Ontario reported 78 new COVID-19 cases today, bringing the provincial total to 503.

It’s the largest increase in a day so far. The total includes six deaths and eight cases that have fully resolved.

At least six of the new cases are hospitalized, including a woman in her 30s, a man in his 40s, two people in their 50s and two people in their 70s.

Ford also announced that Ontario is providing a $200-million funding boost for social services, including shelters, food banks, emergency services, charities and non-profits.

Money is set to go to municipalities and social service agencies, and will help those organizations hire additional staff and operate using social distancing.

“Organizations across the province are doing critical work right now to help vulnerable Ontarians and these funds will allow them to directly help those who need it most,” Ford said in a statement.

The funding will also go toward an expanded emergency assistance program for people on welfare to help cover food, rent, informal childcare arrangements and other services.

Ontario has also enhanced its COVID-19 self-assessment tool, making it interactive and allowing the province to gather data from it.

The new tool takes users through a series of questions about their symptoms and will help them determine if they are likely to have COVID-19 and what to do.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement that the tool will give the province real-time data on the number of people who are told to seek care, self-isolate or monitor for symptoms, as well as where in the province they live.

People calling Telehealth Ontario have reported long waits, but Elliott said the service now has more than 2,000 lines running, up from about 400 before the pandemic.

The government also says Ontario has 58 dedicated COVID-19 assessment centres running, well up from the 38 Ford said were open just a few days ago.

Since Sunday, more than 1,950 people received negative test results, while more than 8,000 people are still awaiting their results.

Elliott reminded Ontarians to practise social distancing, meaning staying at least two metres away from anyone outside your immediate family, and for anyone who has travelled to stay at home and self-isolate.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault also hit the “pause” button on his province’s economy on Monday, ordering all non-essential businesses to close until April 13 as the number of COVID-19 cases more than doubled to 628.

Legault said the businesses will be ordered to close no later than midnight Tuesday, adding that grocery stores and pharmacies will be among those allowed to remain open.

“Effectively, Quebec will be on pause for the next three weeks,” he said.

“It’s important, in order to give us all the chances to reduce the spread of the virus, to take this decision, which is difficult, but in my opinion necessary.”

The number of COVID-19 cases in Quebec jumped by 409 since Sunday, with 45 people hospitalized – 20 of them in intensive care.

Legault noted that the province is now grouping probable and confirmed cases, which accounts in part for the major increase.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s public health director, said the increase in positive cases was expected, given the massive increase in testing in recent days.

The province’s earlier March break and close ties to hard-hit nations such as Italy are also factors, he said.

But while many or most cases remain linked to travel, he noted the province is also beginning to see community transmission.

“When we told you no weddings, no funerals, it’s not because we don’t find them important,” he said. “It’s because there are situations where people who don’t know they’re sick, but are sick, can contaminate others.”

He called on Quebecers to stay home and avoid all travel, including within the province.

There have been four deaths in the province, all linked to the same seniors residence.

Legault announced that from now on, seniors home residents are asked to not to leave without supervision, citing the potentially “disastrous” consequences of the virus running rampant within a group that is statistically the most at risk of complications.

However, he stressed that Quebecers of all ages are to consider themselves essentially locked down.

“What we’re saying is confinement, except for essential services,” he said. “We’re at that point.”

He said the measures do not apply to police, firefighters, health-care workers, grocery store employees, journalists or anyone who can do their jobs completely from home.

The full list of businesses and services that are allowed to remain open was published late Monday. It includes teachers working online, infrastructure maintenance, sanitation, manufacturers of food and medical supplies, hotels, movers, restaurants offering takeout only, banking and public transportation.

The provincially run alcohol and cannabis stores can also stay open.

But constructions sites and aluminum smelters will have to close, he said.

Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the majority of those who contract the virus recover. Some may have few, if any symptoms, or may not know they’re infected because symptoms of the novel coronavirus are similar to a cold or flu.

However, for some, including Canadians aged 65 and over, those with compromised immune systems and those with pre-existing conditions, the illness can be much more severe. Among the Canadians diagnosed with the illness so far, 10 per cent have required hospitalization, with fewer than five per cent of cases requiring admission to the ICU.


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Judge extends order suspending legal proceedings against three tobacco companies

Ccentral_eNews_tobaccoAn Ontario court has extended an order suspending legal proceedings against three major tobacco companies as they try to negotiate a settlement with their creditors.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Thomas McEwen told a Toronto court this morning there would be “no prejudice to any stakeholder” from extending the stay to Sept. 30.

The extension was requested by the companies – JTI-Macdonald Corp., Rothmans, Benson & Hedges and Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. – and was not opposed by any of the parties. The stay was previously set to expire March 2020.

A lawyer for Imperial Tobacco said the longer timeline is necessary for the mediation efforts to progress, and noted “significant developments” have already taken place.

The order to suspend legal proceedings against the three tobacco giants was first granted nearly a year ago after the companies lost an appeal in a landmark class-action lawsuit in Quebec.

The stay is meant to preserve the status quo while the companies work out a global settlement with the class-action members and several other creditors, including a number of provincial governments seeking to recover smoking-related health-care costs.

A lawyer representing the Quebec plaintiffs said that while they consented to the extension, “the urgency has not abated” when it comes to reaching a settlement.

“People are continuing to die at an alarming rate,” as a result of smoking-related health issues, Mark Meland said.

He said a deal should be ready the next time the case comes before the court. “We believe that a resolution can be achieved well before Sept. 30,” he said.

Rob Cunningham, who represents the Canadian Cancer Society, raised concerns outside court over the secrecy surrounding the mediation process. The talks are confidential and the organization was not given permission to participate in them.

Cunningham said there is currently no way to know whether public health concerns are being discussed as part of the settlement.

“What are the measures there to prevent the tobacco industry in the future from repeating the wrongful behaviour of the past?” he said. “There needs to be effective mechanisms to prevent the wrongful activities of tobacco companies that have been very damaging for public health. And so that’s essential as part of any settlement agreement.”


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Industry reacts to Ontario’s proposed vaping regulations

Move called a blow to c-store operators

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Industry associations at the national and provincial levels are up in arms over Ontario’s new plan to restricting the sale of flavoured vapes and e-cigarettes in convenience stores.

Last week, Health Minister Christine Elliott unveiled a number of measures designed to curb youth vaping (READ: It’s official: Ontario to ban flavoured vapes). The proposed rules, which are expected to come into effect May 1, include restricting the sale of flavoured vape products to specialty vape and cannabis retail stores (products with menthol, mint and tobacco are to be exempt). In addition, vapour products with nicotine levels higher than 20 milligrams will be limited to specialty stores, which are supposed to only serve customers 19 and older.

“As we learned more about the alarming increase in youth vaping, one thing has become abundantly clear: we need to do more,” Elliott said, citing recent studies suggesting use of vaping products among young people surged 74% in the past year. Indeed, the early evidence is quite concerning.”

However, industry associations say the efforts are misguided and fail to address the youth vaping crisis. In addition, the consensus is convenience stores, which already sell age-restricted products, such as tobacco, alcohol and lottery, are in an ideal position to sell vapes and accessories.

Despite having no evidence to suggest that youth are accessing vape products from convenience stores, the government is discriminating against them while allowing specialty vape shops and online retailers to continue to operate unchecked, says Anne Kothawala, president and CEO of the Convenience Industry Council of Canada. “Convenience stores are regulated, experienced and trusted, yet the government is handing a monopoly to vape shops that have flouted the law for years. In Ontario, we pass mystery-shopping tests at a rate of over 96%. In addition, 87% of convenience stores passed Health Canada compliance tests while 80% of vape shops failed.”

Kothawala pointed to a recent study—”2019 Drug use Among Ontario Students Report”—from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), which shows that convenience stores are not a significant source of vaping products for youth (READ: C-stores not a major source for youth vaping: Study).

“This government promised that it would make evidence-based decisions but are instead favouring appearance over substance which will have no effect on youth vaping,” said Kothawala.
In addition, studies show that many adults use vaping products to wean themselves off of tobacco products. Kothawala noted that the proposal to reduce nicotine concentrations would force many of these adult vapers back to cigarettes. “Our industry sales data shows that 80% of adult smokers who switched from tobacco to a reduced risk product chose a flavoured option with a nicotine concentration that matches that of a cigarette. While we fully support any efforts to combat the increase in youth vaping, restricting the ability of convenience stores to offer the products that our adult customers need to successfully quit smoking is not only misguided, it is dangerous public policy.”

The Ontario Convenience Stores Association also came out swinging, unleashing a firestorm on Twitter criticizing the government’s decision. “The world of vaping needs to be controlled like tobacco as it is a nicotine delivery product. Every store selling vape needs the same consistent rules on age testing, handling, authorized adult flavours & strict penalties. Not different stores with different rules.”

OCSA president Dave Bryans also spoke to the issue during his remarks at The Convenience U CARWACS Show on March 3, saying retailers should be “outraged” and that the association will continue to work with the province to shape vaping regulations that are more fair to the convenience industry.

The Ontario Korean Businessmen’s Association (OKBA), which operates www.saveourstores.ca, said in a release it is “bewildered and extremely disappointed” by the province’s decision, calling it another “blow” to the reputation and bottom line of the convenience industry.

“Our members have been responsibly selling e-cigarettes and vaping products for many years and we work closely with our members to ensure minors cannot buy them in our stores,” said Kenny Shim, OKBA spokesperson and King Street West storeowner. “If government is truly concerned about vaping, they are targeting the wrong retail outlet in convenience stores. To think minors aren’t purchasing from vape shops is extremely naïve…. Our members were excited when the Ford government was elected in 2018. We didn’t expect this government to follow the previous Liberal government’s habit of picking winners and losers. What happened to, Open for Business??”

The province’s previous Liberal government was set to implement similar measures that would have kicked in last July, but the Progressive Conservatives paused those regulations shortly after taking office in June 2018. However, under increasing pressure to address youth vaping in the wake of growing health concerns, on January 1, Ford’s government banned the promotion of vaping products in convenience stores and gas stations.

In addition to the latest regulations, Elliott, who stopped short of implementing a provincial tax on the products, suggested the federal government should consider doing so: “We know that young people are more price sensitive than other consumers. Higher prices would also further deter youth who have never smoked from trying vapour products in the first place.”

Industry associations are calling on all levels of the government to consider the evidence and work closely with the convenience industry before moving ahead with any decisions.

“There is still time to implement policies that will work. But until the government addresses online sales and vape shops, the policies that have been proposed will not meet the outcomes that the government is suggesting they will,” said Kothawala. “The convenience industry has a plan that will actually address the issue of youth vaping and we encourage government to work with us to get this right.”

With files from Canadian Press.


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It’s official: Ontario to restrict flavoured vapes in effort to curb youth consumption

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Ontario will restrict the sale of vape flavours and high nicotine e-cigarettes in a bid to address youth vaping, Health Minister Christine Elliott announced Friday.

The government also plans to expand prevention efforts and bolster services to help people quit vaping.

“As we learned more about the alarming increase in youth vaping, one thing has become abundantly clear: we need to do more,” she said. “Indeed, the early evidence is quite concerning.”

Elliott cited recent studies that show youth vaping in Canada has increased 74% in just one year, and that nearly one in five Grade 12 students report using an e-cigarette in the previous year.

Most of Ontario’s proposed new regulations are expected to come into effect May 1, and include restricting the sale of flavoured vape products to specialty vape and cannabis retail stores, which already only serve customers 19 and older. Products with menthol, mint and tobacco would be exempted.

But Elliott is also calling on the federal government to create a national tax on vaping products.

“We know that young people are more price sensitive than other consumers,” she said. “Higher prices would also further deter youth who have never smoked from trying vaper products in the first place.”

Alberta announced this week that it will be implementing its own 20% tax on vaping devices and liquids to discourage youth. But Elliott said a national tax is the best approach because it would minimize the regulatory burden on small business owners and ensure consistency across the country.

Ontario previously banned the promotion of vaping products in convenience stores and gas stations on Jan. 1.


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Ministry provides update on beer and wine in Ontario c-stores

beer-bottles-webAfter much initial fanfare, the Ontario Government’s commitment to bringing to bringing beer and wine to corner stores appears to be going nowhere fast.
In March 2019, Ontario’s then-finance minister Vic Fedeli announced the province would keep its election promise and was moving ahead with an expansion of beer and wine sales in corner stores, big box stores and more grocery stores. The move was meant to reduce prices, prevent any potential privatization of the LCBO and give consumers more choice.
He made much ado about the fact that Ontario has the lowest density of retail outlets selling beer, wine, cider and spirits in Canada, with less than 3,000 outlets selling alcohol (compared to Quebec’s approximately 8,000).
Things were off to a strong start. In May, the Progressive Conservative government tabled legislation that would terminate a contract with The Beer Store and pave the way for putting beer and wine in corner stores.  The move was designed to avoid massive financial penalties of $1 billion or more for breaking the contract, which was meant to extend through 2024 and upheld The Beer Store as the sole retailer of 12 and 24 packs of beer.
Needless to say, the Beer Store – the majority of which is owned by industry giants Molson, Labatt and Sleeman – reacted quickly, criticizing the move and saying it would lead to massive job losses.
Screen Shot 2020-01-27 at 8.32.52 PMStill, in June Progressive Conservatives MPPs seemed confident and even took to Twitter en masse, decrying the lack of choice for beer-drinking Ontarians and celebrating the idea of introducing beer, cider and wine to the province’s local stores.
At the time, it seemed like the move was imminent, a virtual done deal. Seven months later and it feels like the issue has fallen off the radar.
The last time the government addressed the issue publicly was during an interview in August with the Toronto Sun when new finance minister Rod Phillips said the province was still working towards a deal.

“It’s becoming more available, but we’re going to do that in a responsible way and we’re doing that,” Phillips said, referring to the new LCBO Convenience Outlets opening across the province.

Still, that’s a long way from beer and wine in every corner store, which was the initial battle cry.

The Ontario Convenience Stores Association addressed the recent lack of momentum in its latest newsletter: “We are sure many are disappointed with the slow down on the roll out of beer and to the convenience store sector and want to assure everyone that this government is still committed to the channel and customer convenience for beer and wine.”
The Convenience Industry Council of Canada is also working with the government to move the issue forward.
Convenience Store News Canada contacted the Ministry of Finance for an update on the situation, asking about potential timelines and the status of discussions with stakeholders.
Ministry spokesperson Marc Pichette confirmed “the Province is currently in discussions with The Beer Store and the brewers that are parties to the master framework agreement. The discussions are aimed at reaching a mutually agreeable solution to improve customer choice and convenience. We cannot disclose the details of these ongoing discussions.”
While a timeline was not available, he added the government is “moving forward on the promise to improve customer choice and convenience and enable more opportunities for businesses in the sale and distribution of alcohol. This is something we’re committed to bringing to the people of Ontario as soon as possible.”

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Health advocacy group asks Ontario to tax vapes to cut down on teen use

shutterstock_766102951A national health advocacy group says higher taxes on vaping products in Ontario would combat rising use among teenagers and create a revenue stream to tackle the costs of addiction.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has asked Premier Doug Ford’s government to include a tax hike between 20 and 30% in its spring budget.

The group’s senior manager of public affairs said a higher cost would make the addictive products unaffordable for teenagers while still allowing adults to use them to quit smoking.

Liz Scanlon said while research into vaping is still in early stages, decades of tobacco control studies have shown that taxation is a key tool to keep the products out of the hands of teens.

“When it comes to cigarette taxes, the research is there to demonstrate that kids are … more likely to cut back or quit when prices go up,” she said.

Ontario’s health minister has said she is growing increasingly concerned about the jump in youth vaping rates and has promised to announce further government action before the end of the month.

Christine Elliott said the government is considering a ban on flavoured vapes, as well as examining the nicotine content in the products and where they should be sold.

On Jan. 1, a provincial ban on in-store promotion of vapour products in gas bars and convenience stores came into effect.

Three provinces have recently proposed or passed legislation to tax vape products – British Columbia, Alberta, and Prince Edward Island.

When asked about the foundation’s proposal on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Finance said the government “does not speculate about taxation policy”.

Scanlon said the group is aware of the government’s fiscal challenges _ and its pledge to eliminate Ontario’s $7.4-billion deficit _ and that the tax could also create a stream of revenue to pay for vaping’s impacts on the health-care system.

“We don’t have really good cessation programs for vaping,” she said. “There isn’t a lot of public education coming out right now. There isn’t a lot of prevention programming. Enforcement is a huge issue. There are lots of areas where addressing this is going to involve spending some money.”

Vaping proponents defend the products as a safer alternative to smoking that can help people quit the habit. Some have also expressed concerns that hiking taxes could create a black market for the products.

“We certainly can’t make these products more expensive than cigarettes,” Scanlon said. “That’s not our aim from a policy perspective.”

NDP health critic France Gelinas said she supports Heart and Stroke’s call for increased taxes on vaping products, which echoes a measure she included in a private member’s bill on vaping she introduced last fall.

The bill, if passed, would also prohibit the promotion of vaping products, regulate flavours, set a maximum amount of nicotine per vape, restrict sales to specialty shops, and require Ontario Health to prepare an annual report on vaping usage and health effects.

Gelinas said the Ford government has been slow to react, and contributed to, the increasing problem when it paused regulations introduced by the previous Liberal government that were set to ban the promotion of vaping products in convenience stores over a year ago.

“You have tens of thousands of teens addicted to nicotine through vaping,” she said. “They chose to look the other way and let this disaster happen.”

 


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Ontarians gobble up cannabis edibles

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Ontario cannabis shoppers scooped up thousands of edibles and vape products within an hour of them going on sale for the first time on the Ontario Cannabis Store’s website.

The online retailer experienced 2,000 transactions on Thursday in the hour after 70 products–cannabis-infused chocolates, cookies, soft chews, mints, tea and vapes–were made available at 9 a.m. local time.

Some products sold out within a half-hour, said the cannabis distributor’s spokesperson Daffyd Roderick.

“At 8:59 a.m., we had 3,000 people in the lobby hitting refresh, waiting to get online, so there was obviously some excitement in the marketplace,” he said.

“We were sold out of soft chew products within 25 minutes.”

The rollout is part of Cannabis 2.0, where the country is allowing a second wave of products like edibles, extracts and topicals to hit the market following the October 2018 legalization of cannabis in Canada. The frenzied pace of sales online Thursday comes after the products first appeared on store shelves last week. Such items were approved for sale in Canada in mid-December, but several provinces, including Ontario, delayed their rollout.

When the OCS website was first launched and the first round of cannabis products went on sale in 2018, Roderick said the site experienced “high demand,” causing online deliveries to take as long as five days to arrive. Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in the first 24 hours the OCS processed 38,000 orders.

Roderick said the online debut of the edible and vape products went well, but acknowledged that there were “a few bumps.”

“Because there were so many people simultaneously refreshing, their page would drop and then they would hit refresh a couple times and they would get back,” he said.

When shoppers Thursday did make it through to the site, which was down between 12:01 a.m. and 9 a.m. to prepare for the launch, Roderick said they were most interested in soft chews.

Several packs were priced for between $6.65 and $12.35 and came in flavours such as raspberry vanilla, peach mango, pineapple orange, apple green tea and grapefruit hibiscus.

Roderick figured there popularity stemmed from soft chews having a “convenience factor” and because “not everybody loves chocolate.”

There were only three kinds of chocolate left for shoppers by noon, when The Canadian Press reviewed the website.

Roderick would not share when more stock would arrive or how much of each product was available for sale, but said its allotment is equal to physical stores and the distributor has a limited supply it has been provided with by licensed producers.

“We know that they’re doing their best to ramp up their production capacity and like everyone else, we’re waiting and watching for when those products are going to come,” he said. “The producers are very interested in getting these products to market, so they’re working as quickly as they can.”

The OCS expects cannabis topicals, concentrates and beverages to be sold in the coming months.


Vapes, edibles and tea to arrive at legal Ontario cannabis shops today

Ontario’s cannabis distributor says dozens of new marijuana products will be available in retail shops starting today, but supplies will be limited.

The Ontario Cannabis Store unveiled 59 new items, including a variety of vapes, edibles and a tea.

The products will be available in the province’s legal cannabis retail stores and on the OCS website on Jan. 16.

The distributor estimates that products will be in short supply until March as manufacturers ramp up production to meet demand.

The number of products will grow to 100 in the coming months as they receive regulatory approval.

The OCS says the new selection will help it combat black market sales across the province.