Ontario a step closer to corner store beer

(File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / AlphaBaby)

You could have more choices on where to buy that beer and wine for your next get-together if the Ontario government has its way.

The Ford government announced Monday afternoon that it will introduce legislation ending its current agreement with The Beer Store, which accounts for the vast majority of beer sales in the province. By doing so, alcohol sales will be expanded to additional grocery stores, big-box retailers, and corner stores.

Ontario Minister of Finance Vic Fedeli said this plan will put Ontario’s consumers ahead of the interests of the big beer companies.

“It’s a bad deal for people in Ontario who want more choice and convenience, and it’s deeply unfair to businesses who want to compete in this sector,” said Fedeli.

The government was provided with a report by Ken Hughes, the special advisor for the Beverage Alcohol Review. It contends that the current system does nothing but ensure continued profitability and favouritism toward the bigger beer producers in North America.

“The system has been so advantageous to the big brewers that their Canadian subsidiaries, Molson and Labatt, have become integral and highly profitable parts of these global companies,” wrote Hughes. “However, that near-monopoly has come at a cost to consumers in Ontario. It has severely restricted choice and convenience for consumers, and in fact, Ontario currently has the fewest number of outlets per capita selling beverage alcohol of any province in Canada. The current situation is not fair to consumers, or to our smaller craft beer entrepreneurs, innovators and job creators.”

The move is being applauded by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, a non-profit group that advocates for small businesses across the province. In a statement, CFIB President Dan Kelly said that it’s a new chapter for Ontario’s beer industry.

“The idea that only government or corporate monopolies can be trusted to sell alcohol in this province is ridiculous,” said Kelly. “We are thrilled the Ontario government is acting on a long-standing Canadian Federation of Independent Business recommendation to include independent, family-run stores in the beer market, finally bringing Ontario alcohol retail into the 21st century.”

The move is not being celebrated by the union that represents workers at The Beer Store. United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW) Local 12-R-24 president John Nock issued a statement Monday afternoon.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my career as a union representative,” said Nock. “We have a government that is now introducing legislation for the sole purpose of destroying the livelihood of over 7,000 Beer Store employees in communities large and small across Ontario and wasting taxpayers’ money. Doug Ford promised no one would lose their jobs as a result of his policies. And now he’s cancelling contracts, creating chaos and kicking good jobs to the curb.”

As for The Beer Store, its president, Ted Moroz, said in a statement that they will challenge the government legislation.

“The government cannot extinguish our right to damages as outlined in the Master Framework Agreement. 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,” said Moroz. “We have today sent a legal letter to the government and will fight this legislation vigorously through the courts and we remain committed to protecting the 7,000 Ontarians who work at The Beer Store and rely on these jobs to support their families.”