TORONTO – Ontario is preparing changes to the way alcoholic beverages are sold, but it will not permit beer sales in corner stores, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday.
Former Liberal premier David Peterson first promised Ontarians in the 1980s that they’d be able to buy beer and wine at a corner store, just like their neighbours in Quebec. But Peterson never delivered on the pledge, and Wynne said the idea is now off the table.
“We’re not going to have beer in convenience stores,” she said. “There is change coming however.”
The Ontario Convenience Stores Association said the province has more than 200 LCBO agency stores — convenience stores in small, remote communities that sell LCBO products — and asked the government to expand that model.
“By piloting an expansion of this program in an urban or suburban community … government will be able to build on the success of this program while stimulating local economies and increasing LCBO revenues,” said spokesman Dave Bryans.
The Progressive Conservatives said Wynne shouldn’t dismiss the idea of selling beer in corner stores because the LCBO agency stores have operated for decades without any problems in their communities.
“It is available in (some) convenience stores, just maybe not in downtown Toronto,” said PC finance critic Vic Fedeli. “I think the public is ready for the discussion.”
Wynne said she’s been concerned for years about the foreign-owned Beer Store’s virtual monopoly on 80 per cent of beer sales in Ontario.
“I was concerned about the functioning of the Beer Store … about the access of craft brewers to the Beer Store, and so from that time I’ve been committed to making change,” she said. “It’s not whether there will be change. It’s just a matter of what that change will be, so stay tuned.”
Wynne appointed former TD Bank CEO Ed Clark to examine the relationship between the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and the Beer Store and look at the alcohol distribution system as part of a review of all government assets.
“They’re looking at the LCBO and, as a result of that, looking at the Beer Store, so there are changes coming,” she said.
Clark rejected privatizing the LCBO in an interim report, and recommended the Beer Store give taxpayers a “fair share” of its profits or have the government auction off its virtual monopoly if the consortium won’t pay an undetermined fee.
Ontario craft brewers say their market share is held back by the Beer Store, which makes it difficult — and expensive — for them to sell their products in its 448 retail outlets.
The Beer Store offered to let craft brewers buy an ownership share and promised to make it easier to list their products, but the smaller brewers said they wanted to wait and see what action the government takes in its spring budget.
The Beer Store, the commercial name for Brewers Retail, was owned by a consortium of Ontario-based brewers when it was set up in 1927, but is now owned by Molson-Coors of the United States, AB InBev of Belgium and Sapporo of Japan.
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