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Industry “thrilled” as Ontario passes bill allowing beer, wine and cider sales at corner stores

Photo: Canadian Press

Photo: Canadian Press

It’s official. Buying alcohol in Ontario is about to become a whole lot more convenient.  Almost 300 more stores, including corner stores, in Ontario will be selling beer, wine and cider as of next spring.

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli says the number of LCBO agency stores in under serviced areas will rise to 60 in August, and to 200 by spring 2020.

The new locations will be called LCBO Convenience Outlets.

Another 87 grocery stores will also be allowed to sell alcohol starting in September, bringing the total to 450 across the province.

The government has promised to make beer and wine available in corner stores, grocery stores and big box stores.

It passed a bill today to end a 10-year agreement with The Beer Store that limits the number of stores that can sell alcohol.

The Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OCSA), which represents 6,000 neighborhood and family-run businesses, released a statement saying it is “thrilled” at the passage of Bill 115, the Bringing Choice and Fairness to the People Act (Beverage Alcohol Retail Sales), 2019.

“This is fantastic news for Ontarians and the neighbourhood retailers who are a part of every community in this Province,” says OCSA CEO Dave Bryans. “It’s good news for consumers who will get more choice and convenience, good news for Ontario craft breweries and wineries, and sets the stage for job creation for all of our industries.”

The group believes today’s passage of Bill 115 will help bring the system into the modern era: “The diverse selection of craft breweries, wineries, and cideries in Ontario is unique and consumers want to enjoy the products they love while supporting local businesses. Ontario convenience stores believe that expanding to convenience, grocery and big box retail stores will unlock new valuable opportunities.”

The OCSA started its ‘’ campaign in the summer of 2011. “Since then we’ve connected with millions of Ontarians in our stores, collected over 400,000 petition signatures, and been having a dialogue with government and industry about the benefits of modernizing beer and wine retailing for Ontario,” said Bryans.  “There is still more work to do, and we look forward to collaborating with all brewers, wineries, and the government to create a system that works to deliver on the goals that Premier Ford committed his government to.”

The group maintains convenience store owners and employees are more than equipped to bring their expertise selling age-restricted products to alcohol sales and states: “The Ontario government is setting up a win-win situation for consumers and businesses. More retailing space for breweries and wineries means more opportunity for business growth and job creation for both producers and retailers – jobs in communities across Ontario and choice and convenience for consumers. Strong growth is possible if small industries are given the opportunity to compete on a more level playing field.

Doug Rosencrans, vice president & general manager, 7-Eleven Canada Inc. released a statement calling the decision good news for for consumers and producers: “7-Eleven is… one of the largest beer retailers in the U.S. – from larger, better-known brands, to craft breweries we help support. We look forward to providing our Ontario customers the same service through beer and wine retailing that’s on the horizon. In our discussions with Ontario craft brewers, we understand that showcasing their products in our stores, and having availability to our customers is a welcomed opportunity. Access to our retail network is open to all beer and wine producers. These positive changes will provide exceptional convenience and choice to our Ontario customers.”

Ontario craft breweries are also welcoming the provincial government’s move to expand beer sales to corner stores, saying the current system limits their products’ exposure to customers.

“I just think it’s fantastic news,” said Scott Simmons, president of the Ontario Craft Brewers, a trade association composed of nearly 100 brewer members.

The way The Beer Store operates makes it difficult for smaller breweries to sell their products there and attract customers, said Todd Lewin, president of Muskoka Brewery. The foreign brewers that own Molson Coors, Labatt and Sleeman mostly own the chain, which operates more than 450 retail stores.

It’s expensive to buy a listing at the store, said Lewin. He estimates it would cost more than $100,000 to sell one type of beer at all the chain’s locations. First, there’s a several-thousand-dollar listing fee and a $230 fee per store, he said. If brewers don’t sell a certain volume every six months or so, Lewin said, they lose that listing.

It’s also hard for craft brewers to have their products noticed in a conventional Beer Store, he said. Many locations prevent consumers from perusing store shelves that may hold new brands to sample.

As a result, craft brewer sales volumes tend to be lower at The Beer Store than at other avenues, like grocery stores, he said.

The change would benefit not only craft brewers, but also consumers and taxpayers, said Simmons. Consumers will have more choice and convenience, and the move will give the economy a boost, he said.

While most of the association’s members express support for corner store beer sales, Simmons said some have asked questions about distribution.

Lewin, for one, wondered how a new distribution model would work to cost effectively bring the brewery’s beers to thousands of new locations.

The Ontario chamber has been working out how distribution will work in this new environment, Simmons said, and has been speaking with third-party organizations.

“I have no concerns whatsoever that we can’t come up with a model that will make it beneficial for our membership to have an expanded retail footprint in the province,” he said. “I wouldn’t even call it a concern. I’d call it a question mark.”

With files from Canadian Press

‘Beer insiders’ fuelling online criticism of Tory government tweets: Fedeli   

Beer “insiders” are fuelling online mockery of a social media blitz promoting the government’s bid to expand alcohol availability to corner stores, Ontario’s finance minister said Monday.

Vic Fedeli said the brewers who own The Beer Store are fighting to hang onto a near monopoly afforded them under a 10-year agreement with the previous Liberal government.

Screen Shot 2019-06-04 at 10.12.20 AM

Caroline Mulroney was one of several PCs who took part in a social media blitz that involved visiting convenience stores across the province to support government measures to change the rules around selling beer and wine.

The Progressive Conservatives have introduced legislation to scrap that deal, which could pass as soon as Thursday, and launched a social media campaign over the weekend.

“If there was any commentary on Twitter, it would have been from the beer insiders who will do anything and say anything to stop this contract from being opened,” Fedeli said.

Tory politicians, including Premier Doug Ford, posted similar messages promoting the legislation to rip up the contract with the brewers—Molson, Labatt and Sleeman—who are all foreign owned.

Fedeli said the multinationals that own The Beer Store are not acting in the best interests of the people of the province and that is why the government needs to act.

“Why is The Beer Store fighting so hard against the government putting more of their product in more stores?” he said. “It’s because they were given a sweetheart deal and they put profits ahead of people.”

Ford has repeatedly indicated he plans to broaden the sale of beer and wine to corner stores, saying the current system is a bad deal for consumers and businesses.

Scrapping the deal could trigger steep financial penalties but the government’s legislation contains provisions to nullify any such costs. The Beer Store, however, warns it will fight the legislation in court.

Company spokesman Bill Walker said the company was not behind the response to the government’s social media campaign, which drew reaction from a mix of celebrities, doctors, educators, business leaders and politicians.

“The sheer volume of responses to MPPs and the fact that there were people who generally aren’t sided with The Beer Store coming out against the government is enough to show the effort was organic and unprompted,” Walker said.

One Twitter user slammed Fedeli’s comments saying she wasn’t a Beer Store insider.

“I’m a parent who lost a child to a flu outbreak. I grew up near Walkerton. My kids go to public school. I’m appalled by your government’s wastefulness while gutting health care and education.”

Another Twitter user criticized the strategy behind the tweets.

“I’ve never, in decades of working in communications, seen a campaign #fail as bad as #fordnation #?OntarioPCParty & the stagedconvenience store schtick,” he wrote.

On Monday, Green party Leader Mike Schreiner attributed the negative reaction to Ontarians concerned about the costs of breaking the deal.

“The people of Ontario have spoken and said we want you to have priorities like health care, education, the climate crisis,” Schreiner said. “I guess, according to the premier, we have a beer crisis in Ontario.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said people are questioning the direction of the Tory government.

“It’s pretty clear they fell pretty flat with Ontarians whose priorities are about ending our hallway medicine problems and making sure our kids get the education that they need and deserve,” she said.

This isn’t the first co-ordinated social media campaign launched by the Tory government to face online mockery. Earlier this year, a series of similar messages posted by government politicians at gas pumps complaining of higher fuel prices due to the federal carbon tax came under fire.

Late Monday afternoon as legislators debated the legislation to break The Beer Store contract, NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson compared the government’s communications strategy on the issue to the methods of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

The veteran NDP legislator apologized for his “insensitive and inappropriate” remarks a short time later.

“I regret any offense my flippant comment may have caused to the community of survivors from the dark history of the Second World War,” he said in a statement.

But Bisson’s reference to Goebbels isn’t the first time the Nazi propaganda minister has been mentioned during this session at Ontario’s legislature.

Debate records show that late last year Progressive Conservative politician Daryl Kramp compared the previous Liberal government’s communications strategy on the Green Energy Act to those used by Goebbels.

Kramp’s remarks were not discovered until Monday and he expressed regret in a statement posted online.

“Apparently I used the name Goebel in passing reference during a parliamentary comment,” he wrote on social media. “I regret any negative impression it may have had.”


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.