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Ontario will make alcohol changes as quickly as possible, Wynne says

Government continues to weight factors of selling liquor in grocery stores

Ontario will move ``as quickly as possible'' to implement changes to alcohol sales in the province once the Liberal government decides on a course of action, the province's premier, Kathleen Wynne, said Tuesday.

Final recommendations are not yet in from a panel chaired by Ed Clark of TD Bank Group, looking at assets such as Hydro One, Ontario Power Generation and the Liquor Control Board, but Wynne said she is eager to make changes.

``I can't give you chapter and verse of when those will take place, but it's very important to me that once we have the direction identified that we move as quickly as possible,'' she said in Barrie after a speech to the chamber of commerce.

``It depends what we do. There's a conversation about licences and how we would work with grocery stores. There's a discussion about the ongoing role of the Beer Store.''

On Monday the Toronto Star reported that the Wynne Liberals plan to auction off beer and wine licences to grocery stores, "with no single grocery chain allowed to purchase more than 25 per cent of them."

The paper also reported that distribution to grocery stores would be handled by the LCBO and Beer Store.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union suggested last week that beer and wine sales at grocery stores could lead to more violence against women, undermining Wynne's plan to stop sexual violence and harassment.

Wynne said beer, wine and liquor are already sold in Ontario, and the protections the regulatory regime affords will stay in place.

``We're not loosening the alcohol distribution system to the point where those protections are not going to be in place,'' she said.

``We will make sure that the system that has been built up over years is still in place in terms of making sure that we keep alcohol out of the hands of young people for example ... We have no intention of doing anything that would put people more at risk.''

Wynne has said one option she is not considering is allowing corner stores to sell beer.

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.

Ontario craft brewers say their market share is held back by the Beer Store, which makes it difficult–and expensive–for them to sell their products in its 448 retail outlets.

During her speech, Wynne congratulated a part-owner of the local craft brewery Flying Monkeys on its 10th anniversary and success both at home and globally. But the brewery's success came despite ``the decisions of past governments'' stacking the market against them, Wynne said.

"If there was a level playing field at home, they could be doing even better,'' she said. "They could be selling more product and hiring more people. So our government is looking at ways of correcting this imbalance.''

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