Sales of beer, wine, cider and ready-to-drink cocktails will be allowed in convenience stores and all grocery stores in Ontario by 2026, eight years after Premier Doug Ford first promised the expansion and just ahead of the next election.
They are some of the biggest changes in alcohol sales in the history of the province, making Ontario just the third jurisdiction in Canada – after Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador – to offer beer in corner stores and the first to offer ready-to-drink cocktails in those locations, government officials said.
The expanded marketplace will give people more choice, convenience and time, Ford said.
"We've got to start treating people like adults here in the province," he said at a press conference.
"Folks, we all have busy lives, so just imagine on a Friday night in December, instead of being stuck in a long lineup at the LCBO, you'll be able to pop into your local convenience store before heading out to the holiday party."
The move would fulfil a promise Ford made during the 2018 election and marks the second attempt the premier has made to put beer and wine in corner stores, previously passing but not enacting legislation to cancel an agreement with the Beer Store.
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That agreement saw sales of beer and wine expanded to a maximum of 450 grocery stores across the province, with the Beer Store retaining exclusive rights to sell 12- and 24-packs of beer, and Ontario is announcing today that deal and those terms will end in 2025.
Under Ford's plan, eligible retail outlets across the province, including an estimated 6,700 convenience stores and another 1,800 grocery stores, will be able to set their own pricing – right now, all retail outlets have to adhere to pricing set by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.
Officials say certain amounts of shelf space will have to be dedicated to small beer and wine producers. Current requirements for grocery stores are that 40% of shelf space for wine must be for small wineries and 20% of beer and cider space must be for small breweries and cideries.
Ontario's new agreement with the Beer Store will see it retain a "primary" role in beer distribution and run its recycling program for five years.
No commitments have been made beyond the five-year term of the new deal, officials said.
The Beer Store said the company looks forward to the next stage in its evolution.
"The agreement acknowledges the important role The Beer Store plays in the responsible sale of beer and ensures it will be able to continue its environmental stewardship for years to come through its recycling program and the Ontario Deposit Return Program," the Beer Store wrote in a statement.
The new system is set to be up and running "no later than" Jan. 1, 2026, the same year Ontario voters will next head to the polls for a provincial election.
By then, Ontario would have the third highest density of alcohol retail stores in Canada, up from its current lowest position.
The government will boost "social responsibility and public health efforts" by $10 million over the five years, it said.
Ontario's auditor general said in a report this month that government officials have not consulted Public Health Ontario on the implications of the expansion of alcohol sales in recent years. Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said he was "pretty sure" Public Health Ontario was consulted on this move.
Brian Patterson, president and CEO of the Ontario Safety League, took issue with the premier's assertion that it is time to start treating Ontarians like adults.
"We treat people like adults right now and we still have impaired drivers every night," he said.
"I've been to hundreds of crash scenes where young people have taken a vehicle and killed unsuspecting partners. It's not a question of 'is everybody completely responsible?' We have to protect against those that are likely to put us at risk."
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The Canadian Mental Health Association's Ontario division urged caution in the rollout.
"Increasing availability to alcohol is in direct contradiction to a public health approach to substance use," CEO Camille Quenneville wrote in a statement.
"Without clearly outlined goals, strategies and sufficient funding to reduce alcohol-related harms, this retail expansion will put additional strain on an already overloaded community mental health and addictions system."
The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, funded by Health Canada, said in a report this year that consuming more than two drinks per week constitutes a moderate health risk due to evidence linking alcohol to cancer.
As part of the alcohol sales modernization, the government announced Thursday (Dec. 14) that it will introduce legislation to eliminate a 6.1% basic tax on all on-site retail sales of 100% Ontario wines, a move the industry has long urged.
Staff training and the current standard hours of sale – from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. – will be required in the new retail outlets, officials said. The Convenience Industry Council of Canada noted its stores already sell age-restricted products such as tobacco and lottery tickets.
The NDP suggested the timing of Ford's announcement was to buy his government some goodwill to cap off an otherwise difficult year.
"(It) comes at the end of a chaotic year in which Ontario's corrupt Conservatives reversed many of their major policy announcements; saw the loss of four cabinet ministers; received blistering reports from the Auditor General, Integrity Commissioner and Ombudsman; and find themselves under criminal investigation by the RCMP," the party said in a statement.