Ontario may soon grow up
Eggs, bacon, milk, beer, bread, avocados, kale, wine... For many people that is a routine list of staples that are purchased on a regular basis. In Québec and many US states, people are accustomed to picking up those basics at one stop. Alas, in Ontario, acquiring essentials usually requires more than one visit to a retailer.
Yet, shopping for booze may soon become easier in the province that has earned a reputation for being very uptight about alcohol sales.
Under a law that does not actually roll off the tongue, The Bringing Choice and Fairness to the People Act, the government plans to can an agreement with the Beer Store and permit the sale of beer and wine in dépanneurs, grocery and big box retail stores.
In a figure-heavy debate, the pros seem to outweigh cons when it comes to emulating practices that have existed in La Belle Province for generations.
The Retail Council of Canada predicts that by increasing the number of alcohol retailers, Ontario would see 9,100 jobs created. It also stated that before taxes are considered, the prices of popular 24 packs of beer in Ontario are still 8.3 per cent higher than in Québec.
The union representing 7,000 Beer Store employees warns of price increases, job losses and a $1 billion penalty if Premier Doug Ford breaks the deal with the Beer Store.
But the Ministry of Finance estimates time savings of $250 million for consumers by being able to buy alcohol while shopping for other items
Ontario convenience stores are the leader in selling age-restricted products responsibly – the most recent data from the Ontario government shows that convenience stores are 96.2 per cent successful at denying these products to people under 19.
That last statistic comes from the Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OCSA), which represents 6,000 neighborhood and family-run businesses in the province.
Greater access to booze will spur job creation in communities across the province, “even in areas where it may otherwise be challenging to attract new businesses,” says the association.
Repeating the government’s stance, Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry Jim McDonell says, “It is important for people to understand that we are not doing this to attack foreign corporate entities who have had a near monopoly on selling beer in the province. This is about bringing choice and fairness to consumers and other businesses. By offering more retail channels all brewers, large and small, will be able to sell more product.”
The ability to sell beer and wine would be a godsend for corner stores. The association representing dépanneurs stresses that if Mom and Pop operations can handle cigarettes responsibly, they can also dispense booze without any problem.
“No other retailer is checked as thoroughly as convenience stores, and no other retail channel has publicly demonstrated comparable success rates at age verification,” claims the OCSA. “Convenience store owners and employees are more than equipped to bring this expertise to alcohol sales – making sure these products are sold responsibly.”
The association declares: “Strong growth is possible if small industries are given the opportunity to compete on a more level playing-field.”
Advocates maintain that the new system will bring Ontario “into the modern era.” Under the proverbial win-win situation, consumers will have be able to support craft breweries, wineries, and cideries, as well as local businesses.
In recent years, Ontario has loosened rules on alcohol, permitting select stores to sell wine and beer.
A refresh of the system is overdue, considering that Ontario’s system of alcoholic beverage retailing is a legacy of the temperance movement in the 1920s.
Unlike most jurisdictions in Canada and the United States, a provincially-owned Crown corporation, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, dominates the wine and spirits market and beer sales have been controlled by The Beer Store, which is owned by large breweries. In the old days, the logic behind the tight restrictions was that alcohol was evil. Yet today, the LCBO spends vast quantities on slick marketing campaigns and has expanded store hours to encourage the consumption of spirits, wines and beers.
Social problems associated with alcohol are still here, but it also seems that few Ontarians are willing to return to the Prohibition Era.
Québec has always had an adult approach to alcohol. For decades, retailers in the neighbouring province have benefited from the steady inflow of Ontarians who want to buy booze when the LCBO and the Beer Store are closed.
Now, however, as summer is on the horizon, shoppers may, in the not so distance future, be able to pick up a case or a bottle at a dépanneur, in Ontario.
It is an old idea whose time has finally come. It is supported by almost everyone, it makes sense and it distracts us from the government’s cutbacks. Cheers!