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04/05/2021

Ontario's budget offers a subtle nod to expanding beer and wine sales to c-stores

Shutterstock/Thana Thanadechaku
Shutterstock/Thana Thanadechaku

Ontario’s $186-billion spending plan contains a number of initiatives to help small businesses, but for the convenience sector, one thing was notably missing—a renewed commitment to bringing beer and wine to corner stores.

Two years ago—March 2019—during the Conservative’s first budget, Ontario's then-Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said the province would keep its election promise and was moving ahead with an expansion of beer and wine sales in corner stores. The announcement was met with opposition from The Beer Store. It’s been two years of delays.

In response, the Convenience Industry Council of Canada (CICC), Ontario Korean Businessmen's Association, Ontario Convenience Stores Association and Free My Booze recently formed a coalition, calling on Queen's Park to fulfill its promise. The coalition embarked on a targeted social media campaign designed to put the issue front and centre as the government prepared to table this latest budget.

The move, according to the coalition, had the potential to fulfill two important goals—give Ontarians more choice, while supporting local businesses that have been hard hit by COVID-19.

While the budget didn't include beer and wine for Ontario convenience stores, consumers will now be able to purchase locally made craft beer at farmers' markets.

The budget did, however, contain funds to help hard-hit small businesses, which could include some independent owner operators.

The government said it would offer a second round of grants to small businesses and create a new job training tax credit. The grant program, first introduced in January, provides between $10,000 to $20,000 to help small businesses affected by provincial lockdowns.

The government estimates the program will cost $3.4 billion and help an estimated 120,000 small businesses.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business told The Canadian Press the group applauded the government's move to double grant funding for small businesses, but asked for some amendments.

“Thousands of hard-hit small businesses across the province remain ineligible,'' said Ryan Mallough. “CFIB urges the Ontario government to expand eligibility for this important program.''