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Ontario should heed lessons of other provinces for new beer system: experts

shutterstock_773619718As the Ontario government prepares to move ahead with its plans to overhaul the province’s 92-year-old beer distribution system, experts say it should heed lessons from retail sales systems in other provinces.

Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives have made it clear that their goal is to give Ontarians more choice and convenience when it comes to alcohol sales, but details are scant as to how they hope to achieve this.

The PCs have the option of adopting the systems used in Quebec, Alberta or British Columbia, or they can develop something unique.

“The lack of detail suggests that they just have this principle of liberalizing but they haven’t got a vision of what kind of system they want,” says Dan Malleck, a beer expert and associate professor applied health sciences at Brock University.

The B.C. model uses provincially owned and private liquor stores but doesn’t allow purchases in supermarkets. Alberta’s system is entirely private with no limit on the number of stores. Quebec allows sales in grocery stores, convenience stores and big box outlets like Costco in addition to government-run liquor outlets.

Most provinces restrict beer sales to provincially owned stores but Newfoundlanders can pick up a cold one from corner stores and gas stations, while New Brunswickers will be able to buy beer in select grocery stores starting in October.

Ontario retail groups are pushing the province to adopt a system similar to Quebec where distribution is widespread and retailers can set their own prices after negotiating directly with breweries. That allows them to pass along any savings to consumers instead of being constrained by a universal selling price set by producers.

“Our preferred model is essentially the Quebec model,” says Karl Littler, the council’s senior vice-president, public affairs.

That would not be as financially beneficial for the owners of The Beer Store, he acknowledges, but they would still prosper.

“It doesn’t seem like they’ve had any difficulty selling in the province of Quebec or in the province of Alberta or indeed in any province,” he said in an interview.

The Beer Store, which is owned by the foreign brewing giants that control Labatt, Molson and Sleeman, accounts for almost 70% of beer sales volume in Ontario, which generated $3.3 billion in sales in 2017-18, according to a recent report by consultant Ken Hughes which recommended changes Ontario should adopt.

Littler said the Beer Store is looking to defend a system that gives its owners substantially greater margins in Ontario than they enjoy in Quebec because of the way that they control both wholesale and retail prices.

Expanding the number of points of sale is sure to increase distribution costs as it has in Quebec where beer is delivered to about 8,000 locations instead of Ontario which has the fewest per capita retail locations in the country, says Dave Bryans, CEO of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association.

“Right now the extra savings go to the beer companies, not to the consumers,” he said in an interview.

Bryans said minimum prices need to be set to protect craft brewers from predatory prices by the global brewers, but he has no problem with beer prices being a little more expensive in convenience stores than at grocers or The Beer Store.

Craft beer sales represent less than 2% of sales at The Beer Store but more than 10% at government-run LCBO locations and more than 15% at grocers.

Allowing sales of beer, especially craft selections, in family-run independent corner stores can help to save a sector that’s been losing five stores a week in the province for the last decade, said Bryans.

“I actually think the craft beer business will bring more millennials into the sector as well and really help shore up the future business model in every community.”

He thinks Ontario will select an open and competitive market like Quebec’s, but with a bias towards craft beer because it is more developed in Ontario than Quebec where the dominance of the big breweries has long controlled shelf space.

The future of Ontario’s beer distribution system remains a mystery because the law that rips up a 10-year agreement with the Beer Store signed in 2015 by the previous Liberal government has yet to be proclaimed more than a month after receiving Royal Assent.

Industry observers believe the provincial government is using the threat of rescinding the legal rights of The Beer Store to compensation as a hammer to force a deal with the retailer.

The Beer Store declined to comment but said after the law was introduced that it would “fight this legislation vigorously through the courts.”

A spokeswoman for Ontario’s new finance minister, Rod Phillips, said the government plans to stick with its campaign promise despite a cabinet shuffle and threat of legal action, but declined to provide any details about the how the system will change or answer questions about the timing of implementing a new law.

“We will continue to work towards getting the best deal possible for Ontario consumers and businesses, and at this time cannot speculate on the outcome of this process,” said Emily Hogeveen in an email.

Canada’s retail council expects the Beer Store will remain a viable competitor even though it estimates that grocery and convenience stores might get about half of the current Beer Store retail business following the changes.

“I think the story that they’re just going to somehow wither on the vine is a little strange,” he said. “Obviously it would be significant or they wouldn’t be spitting bullets like they are currently about the prospect of change.”


Ontario to issue 50 new cannabis store licences: What could this mean for c-stores?

cannabisOntario is set to get 50 more cannabis stores starting in October, and applicants will have to first show they have their finances and retail space ready to go.

The announcement June 26th comes as some of the first 25 of the province’s legal pot shops that were supposed to open April 1 are still not up and running.

Those initial retailers were chosen through a lottery to open Ontario’s first brick-and-mortar cannabis stores—when the drug became legal recreationally last October it was only available online through the government-run Ontario Cannabis Store—and that lottery system has faced criticism for not including a merit component.

In other Canadian jurisdictions allowing for the private sale of cannabis, successful retailers often include convenience stores. For instance, of the 24 retailers selected to qualify for cannabis sales in Newfoundland and Labrador, one is a convenience store in Labrador City. Last summer, a Co-op gas-bar in Calgary was given the green light.

Convenience operators in Ontario are watching the situation. One of the questions is whether the government will allow cannabis stores-within-a-store or insist they be entirely separate.

Either way, convenience-store operators like Alimentation Couche-Tard, which has a large number of Ontario locations, are well positioned.

“We have the ability to sell this product while meeting all government requirements (and) we can train our staff on verifying the identity of all consumers, regardless of their age,” Couche-Tard founder and executive chairman Alain Bouchard foreshadowed at the company’s 2017 annual meeting.

In February 2019, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. entered into a multi-year trademark license agreement with Canopy Growth Corporation, one of the winners of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario’s Expression of Interest Application Lottery, who was preparing to operate a “Tweed” branded retail store in London, Ont. The store opened in May in a shopping plaza that is also home to Walmart, LCBO, Beer Store, Movie Theatre, Farm Boy and others.

In a release, the new partners stated: “Through this partnership, Alimentation Couche-Tard is aiming to lean on Canopy Growth’s cannabis expertise and leverage its experience with other age-restricted products to focus on the safe, responsible and lawful sale of cannabis, consistent with the legislation enacted by the federal and provincial governments. As two Canadian-made and globally-positioned companies, the London location will serve as an important entry to market that could lead to future international opportunities.”

“Alimentation Couche-Tard is excited about taking a leadership role in the development of cannabis retailing excellence in this major Canadian market. We believe the Ontario Cannabis Store and private retailers will co-exist under a tightly regulated framework with common goals to protect public health and safety,” said Couche-Tard president and CEO Brian Hannasch.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will hold a lottery on Aug. 20 for the next 42 retail store authorizations. Another eight stores will be located on First Nations reserves through a separate process.

For this lottery, applicants will have to show evidence that if they are selected, they have already secured retail space that could be used as a store and that they have enough capital to open it, the AGCO said.

One licenced cannabis producer said the latest initiative will position the industry for significant sales growth in Canada’s largest province.

“After the first 25 stores began to open in Ontario, the industry saw overall sales of cannabis basically double,” Dr. Avtar Dhillon, executive chairman and president of Emerald Health Therapeutics said in a statement.

“Adult-use consumers are showing a preference for going into a physical location where they can interact with educated, savvy budtenders and we anticipate that the further expansion of physical stores in Ontario and Canada will strongly serve the growth of legal cannabis sales.”

The Ontario government decided on an initial round of just 25 stores, citing national supply issues, but that appears to be easing.

“Our government is continuing to take a responsible approach to opening cannabis stores across Ontario, allowing private sector businesses to build a safe and convenient retail system to combat the illegal market,” Finance Minister Rod Phillips said in a statement.

“With marginal improvements in national supply, we are proceeding to issue up to 50 new cannabis store licences.”

Attorney General Doug Downey said in a statement that a phased approach is still necessary.

“While the federal supply issues persist, we cannot in good conscience issue an unlimited number of licences to businesses,” he wrote.

Omar Khan, a vice-president with Hill+Knowlton Strategies who advises several clients in the cannabis industry, said the announcement is a positive step, but called for further action.

“If the government wants to eliminate the illicit market they will need to ensure that consumers are able to access legal product offerings conveniently and in a timely manner,” he said in a statement.

“This means moving aggressively towards an open licensing system as soon as the national supply situation permits, and working with the private sector to significantly improve the current online customer retail experience.”

The 42 new stores selected through the lottery will be distributed regionally, with 13 in the city of Toronto, six going to the Greater Toronto Area, 11 in the west region, seven going to the east region, and in the north, one each in Kenora, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay and Timmins.

Stores will be allowed to open in any municipality regardless of population if the community did not opt out of having cannabis stores.

The process for First Nation stores will start in July on a first-come, first-served basis.

With files from Canadian Press. 


Court agrees to suspend legal proceedings against tobacco companies until fall

An Ontario court has agreed to extend an order suspending legal proceedings against three major tobacco companies as they negotiate a settlement with their creditors after losing an appeal in a multibillion-dollar case in Quebec.

The stay of proceedings was granted in March as part of the creditor protection process and upheld the following month after some of the companies’ creditors challenged it.

The order was set to expire June 28, but will now be renewed until Oct. 4.

The companies – JTI-Macdonald Corp., Rothmans, Benson & Hedges and Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. – had initially sought to prolong the stay until December but presented a revised proposal last week.

The order was first obtained shortly after Quebec’s highest court upheld a landmark decision that ordered the tobacco companies to pay more than $15 billion to smokers in two class-action lawsuits.

The stay is meant to maintain the status quo while the companies go through mediation with all those who have claims against them, including the class-action members and several provincial governments.

Lawyers representing the class members argued in April that the stay in their case should be revoked if the companies plan to appeal the Quebec ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Thomas McEwen rejected their request, saying it would give an unfair advantage to the Quebec creditors over the others.

But he ruled the stay would also prevent any of the companies from seeking leave to appeal to Canada’s top court unless they obtain the court’s permission.

McEwen also denied Ontario’s bid to push forward with a lawsuit that aims to recover smoking-related health-care costs from a dozen Canadian firms and their parent companies, including the three companies granted the stay.

The judge said allowing the lawsuit to proceed before settlement talks are complete would favour Ontario over other provincial governments seeking similar relief.

Health groups have also opposed the stay, calling it a delay tactic by companies whose profitability isn’t immediately threatened.

In a statement issued this week, the groups say the companies “have not even initiated settlement discussions, and have set no time limits to address the claims made against them.”


Ottawa’s carbon pricing law valid, Ontario’s top court rules

Screen Shot 2019-06-28 at 11.18.48 AMOntario’s top court has ruled the federal government’s carbon charge is constitutionally sound.

In a split decision, the five-judge panel rejected a challenge from Premier Doug Ford’s government to the validity of the carbon-pricing law.

Ottawa maintains it had to act to deal with the urgent threat of climate change as an issue of national concern.

The federal government said its approach-imposing a levy on gasoline and fossil fuels-respected provincial jurisdiction.

Ontario and three other provinces argued the Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau overstepped its authority in imposing the charge.

Last month in a split decision, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal sided with Ottawa in a similar challenge.

The Doug Ford government challenged the constitutionality of the carbon-pricing law before a five-judge panel in April.

It argued the Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau overstepped its authority in imposing the charge.

 

The federal government maintains the levy in Ontario (currently four cents a litre on gasoline) is a regulatory charge designed to change behaviour in favour of lower greenhouse gas emissions. Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government called the charge an illegal tax—another violation of the Constitution.

During four days of submissions, Ontario insisted the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act would undermine co-operative federalism by allowing Ottawa to overstep the dividing line between federal and provincial spheres of authority.

Provincial lawyers told the Court of Appeal the federal government would end up with the power to regulate almost every facet of life, such as when you can drive, where you can live, or whether you can have a wood-burning fireplace. They also argued the province has its own approach to the climate-change issue.

For their part, federal lawyers argued the province was fearmongering. The law, they said, would not result in an expansion of constitutional powers that would give Ottawa carte blanche to regulate issues that fall squarely within provincial jurisdiction.

The act, which took effect April 1, was a legitimate response to potentially catastrophic climate change, federal lawyers argued.

The act currently only applies in four provinces—Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan—which Ottawa says don’t meet national standards.

In all, 14 interveners—among them some provinces, Indigenous groups and environmental and business organizations—lined up to defend or attack the federal law, with most siding with Ottawa. Indigenous groups, for example, stressed their vulnerability to global warming that they said could destroy their way of life.

Some observers said the Ontario challenge was more about politics than the environment.

The issue is expected to be ultimately decided before the country’s top court. The Supreme Court of Canada has already said it hear Saskatchewan’s challenge in December, after the October federal election.


Convenience industry welcomes Ontario’s plan to end Beer Store deal

Photo: Canadian Press

Photo: Canadian Press

Ontario plans to rip up an agreement with The Beer Store in order to allow the sale of beer and wine in corner stores, but the retailer has already signalled it will fight the move in the courts. Meanwhile, convenience store associations and their members are welcoming the announcement.

The Progressive Conservatives tabled legislation Monday that would terminate a 10-year contract with The Beer Store that was signed by the previous Liberal government. The deal permitted an expansion of beer and wine sales to hundreds of grocery stores.

Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly indicated he plans to broaden the sale of beer and wine to corner stores, but he has to break that agreement signed with Beer Store co-owners Molson, Labatt and Sleeman to do so. In explaining Monday’s move, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said the current system is a monopoly that is a bad deal for consumers and businesses.

“The province’s current beer distribution system is owned by three global giants who were handed a sweetheart deal by the previous government, and who are more interested in protecting profits than providing convenience or choice for average people,” Fedeli said.

Scrapping the deal could trigger steep financial penalties, but the legislation contains provisions to nullify any such costs.

The Beer Store, however, suggested it was not willing to accept voiding any financial claims, saying it will fight the legislation through the courts.

“The government cannot extinguish our right to damages as outlined in the Master Framework Agreement,” president Ted Moroz said in a statement.

“It is critical to understand that The Beer Store has, in good faith, based on a legally negotiated 10-year operating agreement with the province of Ontario, invested more than $100 million to modernize its stores and to continue to upgrade the consumer experience.”

The Beer Store’s lawyers sent a letter to the attorney general, saying they reserve the right to start litigation challenging the bill and seek compensation.

“The bill is unconstitutional and constitutes misfeasance in public office by certain ministers and officials involved,” they write.

When the brewers signed the deal in 2015 they also agreed to spend approximately $100 million on capital investments in Beer Store locations, to freeze prices on most Labatt and Molson products for a year and were required to give more shelf space to small brewers.

The deal also allowed the Beer Store to keep the exclusive right to sell 24-packs and most 12-packs in the province, while grocery stores would only carry six-packs. The agreement also opened up ownership of The Beer Store to smaller breweries.

NDP finance critic Sandy Shaw said ripping up the deal sends a signal to businesses that government agreements are not worth the paper they’re written on.

The Beer Store and its union have been embarking on a public relations campaign to push back against having beer in corner stores, with the brewers taking out an ad saying they keep prices down with their distribution system, and the union taking out ads warning that cancelling the Beer Store’s deal could hit taxpayers hard.

The United Food and Commercial Workers local representing Beer Store employees said Monday that the government’s decision could cost thousands of jobs.

“We will fight this government and this premier to keep our jobs and to save the taxpayers the billions Ford is willing to pay to put beer in corner stores,” president John Nock said in a statement.

On Friday, the province’s special adviser on alcohol delivered a report to Fedeli on ways to improve consumer choice and convenience.

Asked about the short turnaround time between the report being completed and the legislation being tabled, Fedeli said he had always been working on all options.

The Tories have also announced a number of loosened alcohol restrictions, including allowing alcohol to be served at 9 a.m., seven days a week, letting people consume booze in parks, and legalizing tailgating parties near sports events.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said the government has an obsession with alcohol.

“There’s six more years left on this deal,” he said. “What’s the hurry? Why not negotiate a transition to get to where you want to? There’s a whole bunch of things that are way more important in Ontario right now than beer and wine in corner stores.”

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business and Retail Council of Canada applauded the legislation.

The Ontario Convenience Stores Association released a statement saying it “supports the Ford government’s work to allow convenience stores to support Ontario craft brewers and wineries, create jobs and deliver more choice and convenience to customers.”

The group believes the Bringing Choice and Fairness to the People Act is also a step towards job creation in communities across the province, even in areas where it may otherwise be challenging to attract new businesses.

“We are keen to play a role in helping the Government increase revenues, create jobs and offer consumers more convenience,” said OSCA CEO Dave Bryans. “We’re ready to provide new retailing space for Ontario craft brewers and wineries to showcase their products in their communities, while continuing to be responsible retailers.”

The Convenience Industry Council of Canada (CICC), which represents Ontario’s 7,500 convenience stores and the distributors that service them, including banners like Circle K, Petro Canada, Canadian Tire, 7 Eleven, Parkland, and MacEwen, also welcomes new provincial legislation that seeks to expand the sale of beer and wine in corner stores.

“The Convenience Industry Council of Canada (CICC) supports the Ford government’s decision to bring Ontario’s beverage alcohol policies into the 21st century,” said CICC president and CEO Anne Kothawala. “As the only organization representing all aspects of the convenience store supply chain from manufacturer to sale, I can attest to the excitement felt by all of our members who are working to make expanded beverage alcohol sales a reality.”

A survey conducted by Abacus Data in early April found that 73% of Ontarians who regularly consume beverage alcohol support the expansion of beverage alcohol in convenience stores. Additionally, 64%t of those surveyed say the convenience of alcohol close to home is important.

“Our industry has a strong track record in the sale of age restricted products, from lottery to tobacco and we have drawn on lessons learned from other jurisdictions and rolling out significant age-testing training in our stores across the province,” said Kothalwala. “We look forward to working with the Ontario government to bring choice and fairness to the marketplace and putting the needs and convenience of our customers first.”

With files from Michelle Warren


Ontario government reviewing report from special alcohol adviser

The Progressive Conservative government is now reviewing recommendations from its special adviser on alcohol as it looks at making changes to the system.

Ken Hughes, a former MP and Alberta cabinet minister, delivered his report Friday to Finance Minister Vic Fedeli on ways to improve consumer choice and convenience.

The Tories have already indicated they plan to put beer and wine in corner stores, but it may not be easy to do so.

The previous Liberal government signed a 10-year agreement with the brewers who own The Beer Store that permitted an expansion of beer and wine sales to hundreds of grocery stores.

In order to further expand those sales, Premier Doug Ford’s government would need to break that agreement with the brewers, who have warned that doing so would trigger steep financial penalties.

The Tories also announced a number of loosened alcohol restrictions in last month’s budget, including allowing alcohol to be served at 9 a.m., seven days a week, letting people consume booze in parks, and legalizing tailgating parties near sports events.


Industry reacts to proposed fines for Ontario gas stations not posting anti-carbon-tax stickers

Buried in Ontario’s budget bill are fines of up to $10,000 per day for gas station operators who don’t display government-mandated stickers about the price of the carbon tax.

gas-stickerThe budget contains a new piece of legislation called the Federal Carbon Tax Transparency Act that would require gas stations to display the sticker on each pump. The sticker shows the federal carbon tax adding 4.4 cents per litre to the price of gas now, rising to 11 cents a litre in 2022.

The legislation lets the government send inspectors to see if gas stations are properly displaying the stickers and sets out penalties for non-compliance.

Individuals could be fined up to $500 each day, or up to $1,000 a day for subsequent offences. Corporations could be fined up to $5,000 a day, or up to $10,000 a day for subsequent offences.

Obstructing an inspector would carry a fine of at least $500 and up to $10,000.

“This is a new low, even for (Premier) Doug Ford,” NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said in a statement. “It’s bad enough that he’s wasting public money on partisan promotion, but now he’s threatening private business owners with massive fines for failing to post [Progressive] Conservative Party advertisement.”

Similar critiques came from federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who denounced the fines as “ridiculous.”

“Not only is this a violation of freedom of speech, it will cost small business owners across the province who don’t want to take part in this government propaganda campaign,” McKenna said in a statement.

“This should be denounced by all political parties as a new low for our political discourse.”

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said Ford is wasting tax dollars and abusing legal tools to bolster his anti-carbon tax campaign.

“This has nothing to do with transparency and everything to do with helping his federal cousins win the election,” Schreiner said in a statement.

‘We cannot accept this carbon tax’

The provincial Tories are slamming the federal carbon tax at every turn, and while Ford has said he is staying out of the upcoming federal election, he directly linked the two Friday in a speech to the Ontario General Contractors Association.

“When you go to the ballot box think of your future,” he said. “Think of the country’s future. Think of your children’s future, because we cannot accept this carbon tax.”

In response, the Ontario Convenience Stores Association said on Twitter: “Independent family run gas stations are more then happy to install the carbon tax sticker on all our pumps supporting Ford Nation in educating customers of the carbon tax download on all Ontarians. Let us know how to help?”

Energy Minister Greg Rickford’s director of communications said the stickers are about transparency.

But critics note that the stickers don’t mention carbon tax rebates.

The carbon tax is expected cost to a typical household $258 this year and $648 by 2022.
With files from Michelle Warren. 

CICC welcomes Ontario budget actions that support convenience store industry

Screen Shot 2019-04-12 at 3.13.40 PMThe new Convenience Industry Council of Canada (CICC) is applauding actions taken by the Ontario government in its maiden budget, which it says will result in red tape reductions, lower business costs and put consumers first across Ontario.

In a statement, the Council also welcomed measures designed to address regulatory burdens in the small business sector and spur growth and investment across the province.

“Ontario’s beverage alcohol policies are moving into the 21st century.”

“Small businesses welcome the message in today’s budget: Ontario’s beverage alcohol policies are moving into the 21st century,” says Anne Kothawala, president & CEO of the CICC. “As the organization representing convenience store retailers, distributors and other members of the supply chain, we are excited to help make expanded beverage alcohol sales in our Ontario stores a reality.

“We know consumers want expanded beverage alcohol sales; 74 percent of alcohol consumers say they support expanded sales,” she says, adding this was one of the findings in a new poll conducted by Abacus Data for the CICC.

The CICC highlighted a number of measures in Ontario’s budget, which it says are designed to reduce red tape and costs for businesses, including:

  • a reduction in WSIB premiums;
  • accelerating the 25 percent red tape reduction to 2020;
  • holding the minimum wage to $14/hour and tying future increases to inflation;
  • reaffirming its commitment to cutting the small business tax rate.

The Council says other measures in Budget 2019 also bode well for the convenience store industry, including breaking down interprovincial trade barriers between Ontario and Quebec.

“Our retailers have considerable experience in Quebec, and we are pleased to see Ontario’s leadership in working with our neighbouring province to grow trade,” says Kothawala.

Lastly, the industry welcomed the commitment to press the federal government to legalize single sport wagering in Canada.

“We commend this government for treating adults like adults and trusting our retailers to responsibly sell lottery and beverage alcohol to our adult customers,” says Kothawala , adding: “Overall, our sector is very pleased with today’s budget which recognizes the importance of our businesses and the contributions we make to communities across the province. We look forward to working with the government in the coming weeks and months to ensure small businesses continue to be heard and that these policies come to fruition as quickly as possible.”


Ontario to expand beer, wine to convenience stores, finance minister says

Ontario’s finance minister says the province will be moving ahead with an expansion of beer and wine sales into corner stores, big box stores and more grocery stores, promising the move will cut prices and prevent any potential privatization of the LCBO.

Vic Fedeli said Thursday that the Progressive Conservative government will make good on a pledge made during last spring’s election to offer consumers more choice when it comes to where they can purchase booze.

20387772_5bdd6d49a5_z“Our government is actively working to expand the sale of beer and wine to corner stores, box stores, and even more grocery stores,” Fedeli said during a speech to a business audience in Toronto delivered ahead of his first provincial budget on April 11.

“We made a commitment during the campaign to provide consumers with greater choice and convenience, and we plan on delivering.”

Fedeli gave no timeline for the move but said greater competition in the sector will lower prices for consumers and expand product availability.

Ontario currently has the lowest density of retail outlets selling beer, wine, cider and spirits in Canada, Fedeli said, with less than 3,000 outlets selling alcohol compared to Quebec’s approximately 8,000.

The minister also said the government has no plans to privatize the LCBO despite receiving a report last fall that recommended consideration of the sale of some government assets.

Fedeli called the chain of over 600 LCBO outlets a “prestige asset in Ontario” and said a sell-off would not be part of the government’s plan to eliminate a deficit that the Tories have pegged at $13.5 billion.

“We believe this will open it all up without any need whatsoever to privatize that valuable asset,” he said of the move to have alcohol sold in corner stores and big box stores.

Fedeli said the idea of selling government assets to address the deficit won’t help the government in the long run. He said the previous Liberal government’s sale of its General Motors shares and part of its Hydro One ownership stake just temporarily covered for budget problems.

“We have a structural deficit. That means the day-to-day bills that are being paid with borrowed money,” he said. “Selling an asset doesn’t solve that, it only puts a band-aid on it for a year.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she would be focused on enhancing services for people of the province if she were premier, not expanding access to alcohol.

“We have a government that’s taking teachers out of classrooms, reducing autism services for kids but making sure that we can have beer in every corner store,” she said. “I think they have the wrong priorities.”

Last year, the Tory government cancelled a scheduled increase in the provincial beer tax, forgoing $11 million in potential revenue, and brought back so-called buck-a-beer.

Buck-a-beer lowers the minimum price of a bottle or can of beer to $1 from $1.25. Brewers are not required to charge less and the minimum price doesn’t apply to draft beer, nor does it include the bottle deposit.

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said the move to greater availability of alcohol in corner stores is something that could require more public consultation.

“Change in alcohol and beer and wine (availability) in Ontario has always been very incremental,” he said. “We should talk to people. If we do something like that it has to be done in a responsible way.”

The previous Liberal government had expanded alcohol sales beyond the LCBO during their term, authorizing more than 350 grocery stores to sell beer and cider, and 70 to sell wine.


3-tips-for-foodservice-success

Ontario menu labelling: C-store fact sheet

The Healthy Menu Choices Act, 2015 and its accompanying regulation, come into effect on January 1st, 2017. Are you ready? Read more