On­tario may soon grow up

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Mahoney [email protected]­gar­rynews.ca

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.

Looser rules

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!

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