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Beer in grocery stores not a priority for former Ontario premier

David Peterson calls decision the least significant thing in public policy today

A former Liberal premier of Ontario who three decades ago proposed selling beer and wine in corner stores says today he simply does not care about it.

As the current Liberal government crafts reforms to Ontario's buttoned-down alcohol regime, David Peterson's 1980s attempt is often raised as evidence that changes have been a long time coming.

But the man behind it says while it was a good idea at the time, the world has changed since then. For Peterson personally, "it's about the least significant thing in public policy'' today.

"Why would I care?'' he says in a telephone interview. "I care about important things. This is not important to me.''

When he introduced the bill–which was defeated in a minority parliament–the reasoning was partly to increase convenience, partly to help small businesses and partly to assist the Ontario wine industry in the pre-free trade era, Peterson says. And the dozens of craft breweries in Ontario did not exist then.

"It's not cheaper to do this and it never was because we have actually a fairly efficient distribution system and the government makes a lot of money off it,'' he says.

"I thought at the time it was a good thing. It fit a profile for the reasons I expressed: small business, convenience–it wasn't just about the consumer, it was about business, too–and about the Ontario wine industry. A lot of those things have changed in their importance and their complexity.''

Premier Kathleen Wynne has tapped Ed Clark of TD Bank Group to lead a panel looking at assets such as Hydro One, Ontario Power Generation and the Liquor Control Board. Clark rejected privatizing the LCBO in an interim report, and recommended the foreign-owned 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.

The government has not made any final decisions–those are expected to be signalled in the spring budget–but has not ruled out selling beer and wine in grocery stores. Wynne has, however, said she will not put booze in convenience stores.

Peterson says his intention was not to put alcohol in big grocery stores, rather to help the small mom-and-pop stores. Now, he says, if people want changes, he's OK with it, if they don't, he's OK with that too.

"It's a very big issue because there's issues of distribution, there's the issue of price, there's the issue of convenience, but there's issues of abuse,'' he says. "There's a whole bunch of issues that people come at from different points of view. You ask my own personal opinion, I don't care...It's not a big part of my life.''

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