The spring Ontario budget is expected to outline new alcohol retail policies that could see up to 300 new wine and beer sales licences sold to large supermarket chains as a way to generate more revenue for the provincial government and open up Ontario alcohol sales.
Media reports suggest that the Wynne government has decided to liberalize Ontario’s restrictive beer and wine retailing to initially allow sales in 300 of the province’s 1,500 grocery stores.
Reports indicate that the government will auction off retail licences and limit supermarket chains from owning more than 75 apiece in order to bolster competition.
Sale of hard liquor will continue to be restricted to the publicly-owned Liquor Control Board of Ontario, which runs 651 outlets and 212 independent stores in rural areas. The LCBO will continue to sell beer and wine as well.
Grocery store beer sales should shake-up the 448-outlet Beer Store, which is privately owned by the foreign-owned parent companies of Labatt, Molson, and Sleeman.
While the Beer Store will continue to operate its own stores and be allowed to distribute beer to supermarkets, the Ontario government is expected to collect a new franchise fee of as much as $100 million a year.
At the same time that the Ontario government seems intent on allowing large grocery chains to sell wine and beer, the province’s craft brewing industry is pressing for more sales outlets for their specialty brews.
Ontario Craft Brewers – the association representing craft brewers – says that in addition to the existing retail channels of the LCBO, the Beer Store and possibly grocery stores, the government should allow established craft brewers to open at least one off-site store per brewery and allow them to sell each other’s products in them, and in their existing on-site brewery stores.
The lobby group says the ability to sell through this complementary channel will help grow the industry of 150+ small, independent craft breweries in the province. This new retail channel would also directly have an impact on the growth of the emerging local hops industry, which is also expanding across the province.
“We believe our share could double or triple in the next few years as our access improves,” Darren Smith, president of Lake of Bays Brewing Co. and vice-chair of Ontario Craft Brewers. According to Smith, this could mean another 1,000 to 2,000 new direct brewery jobs. In addition, each off-site store would generate another four to five direct jobs, the group said.
Meanwhile, the union representing workers at the LCBO is saying an emphatic “no” to an expansion of beer and wine sails into supermarkets.
“The Liberal government’s cavalier approach to allowing beer and wine into 300 grocery stores is loaded with health care and social impact consequences,” said Denise Davis, chair of the liquor board employees division of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. “But the premier has provided no indication how the government will handle the harmful side effects of expanded alcohol availability which all leading experts say triggers abuse of a controlled substance and higher costs to taxpayers.
“She’s deliberately ignoring the expert evidence that shows that greater alcohol availability leads to an “alcohol deficit” whereby we spend more treating the harmful side effects of alcohol than we actually take in from alcohol-associated revenue.”
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas, whose union represents more than 7,000 LCBO workers, said the government has adopted a reckless approach to its plan to expand beer and wine retail locations by 20 per cent over the 1,500 locations where alcohol is presently available.
“Let’s call this for what it really is,” said Thomas. “This is a golden egg laid for the appetite of the Ontario Liberal government’s corporate pals in the grocery industry some of whom, like Nova Scotia-based Sobey’s, don’t even have headquarters in Ontario. Imagine that: profits from private alcohol sales flowing out of the province instead of staying here in Ontario to help fund health care, education and infrastructure.”
And the union representing the Beer Store workers also opposes changes to the Ontario alcohol retail scene.
“What mustn’t be forgotten is that The Beer Store provides Ontario consumers, parents and communities the highest standard of social responsibility and safety,” says Paul Meinema, the National President of UFCW Canada. “We’re talking about the safety of the public, drivers, and also about the safety of workers who are well trained in challenging customers who are underage or under the influence of alcohol.”