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Liquor sales in grocery stores a ‘deadly disaster in the making’: OPSEU

Public service union urges restraint after PC leader Doug Ford suggests privatization for liquor sales

The union representing approximately 7,000 LCBO employees is calling on Ontario’s party leaders to take a “clear stand” against the sale of hard liquor in the province’s grocery stores.

OPSEU’s stance follows recent remarks by Ontario PC leader Doug Ford suggesting that sales of liquor and cannabis should be privatized, as well as a push by Spirits Canada to get equal access for its products on grocery store shelves.

OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas argued that allowing grocery stores to sell liquor would be a “deadly disaster in the making,” noting that there is a reason why alcohol is a controlled substance.

“Our fear is that Doug Ford just might open up the whole world to competition,” said Thomas in an interview with Canadian Grocer on Tuesday. “Hard liquor would be a whole new world, and very ill-advised.”

Thomas said grocery retailers are motivated by the bottom line, and pointed to news of an alleged bread price-fixing scandal as evidence that the country’s major chains couldn't be trusted to put people before profits.

Thomas’s comments followed remarks by Ford on The Evan Solomon Show earlier this month in which he advocated for the privatization of liquor sales. “My simple message is I don’t like monopolies,” Ford told Solomon. “I don’t like government being involved in something the private sector can handle.

“Do you think it’s fair that we just hand pick a couple of stores and let them instead of let everyone do it? It’s unfair competition to other retailers.”

OPSEU expressed similar misgivings about grocery stores being permitted to sell beer and wine in 2015, arguing at the time that the province was “encouraging Ontarians to drink more.”

Earlier this year, the Ontario government announced that 87 new grocery stores would be permitted to sell beer and cider beginning in April, joining another 200 stores – 70 of which are also authorized to sell wine – already selling alcohol.

On March 20, Spirits Canada, a lobby group representing major distillers such as Diageo, Corby and Constellation Brands, launched a campaign called “Fairness for Ontario Spirits,” arguing that spirits should be sold at grocery stores.

Spirits Canada president and CEO Jan Westcott said it is “completely unfair” that spirit sales are restricted, and warned of “devastating economic consequences” to its members if the ban was not reversed.

Westcott claimed the market share for spirits in Quebec dropped from 40% to 13% in the wake of the provincial government’s decision to allow beer and wine to be sold at grocery and corner stores.

Spirits Canada argued that a 12-oz. bottle of beer at 5% alcohol, a 5-oz. glass of wine at 12% and a cocktail with 1.5 oz. of spirits at 40% contain exactly the same amount of alcohol. “Excluding spirits from grocery store sales is not fair and does not make sense,” the organization contends.

Thomas said OPSEU wasn't looking to make this an issue as Ontarians get set to go to the polls, but is simply responding to Ford’s remarks. “I was of the view of letting sleeping dogs lie, but raised it, so we responded. We wouldn’t have raised it at all.”

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