Retail alcohol sales a hot topic in Ontario election

Conservatives promise to expand sales into corner stores, NDP and Liberals favour the status quo

Retail beer and wine sales have emerged as a significant storyline in the Ontario election after the Conservatives promised to expand sales to corner stores across the province.

Since late 2015, a limited number of grocery stores in the province have been able to sell beer and wine, though the vast majority of sales still come through the government run LCBO locations.

Last week, the Conservatives promised to overturn that policy and permit beer and wine sales in convenience stores, box stores and all grocery stores across the province.

“Consumers will soon be able to grab a bottle of wine in the same location where they get their groceries for an evening dinner with guests, or grab a case of beer around the corner from where they live, so they can entertain friends,” said party leader Doug Ford in a release.

Unsurprisingly Dave Bryans, CEO of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, released a statement supporting the proposal, saying Ford told him “help is on way for small business and I am going to give your channel beer very shortly.”

However, both the Liberals and NDP favour the status quo.

Premier Kathleen Wynne, leader of the Liberals, denounced the Conservative plan, telling parents they should be worried about Doug Ford’s intentions when it comes to both alcohol and marijuana. “Doug Ford’s fixation on letting the ‘market decide’ and providing unfettered access to alcohol and cannabis comes at the expense of giving parents peace of mind in knowing that children and minors will be protected.”

However, there are now more than 350 grocery stores in the province already selling beer and cider, though still just 70 can sell wine. There are also more than 200 LCBO agency stores—convenience/grocery retailers selling beer, wine and, unlike grocery stores, hard liquor--in rural communities across the province.

Eventually 450 stores will sell beer and 300 will sell wine under the current plan.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath also expressed concerns about the social costs of alcohol in corner stores. “It’s more than just accessibility; it’s social responsibility,” said Horwath. “I'm going to be straight up about it: I don't think we need to have beer and wine in the corner stores… I don't think this is a broken system in Ontario.”

Early in the election, the Conservatives seemed like a safe bet to replace the unpopular Liberals in government, but polls show the NDP running neck and neck with the Conservatives in recent days.

The leader of the union representing LCBO employees was less restrained in his opposition to the Conservative proposal.

“It's utterly stupid and irresponsible,” said Warren Thomas, OPSEU leader, in a release. “Putting alcohol next to milk sends the wrong message to highly impressionable children and youth,” he said. “Alcohol is already the leading cause of death among teens. There's no way we should make it easier for them to get a hold of it.”

In the annual report for fiscal 2016-17 released last August, the LCBO reported wholesale sales to grocery stores totalled just $65 million, while total beer, cider and wine sales reached $3.3 billion—$1.29 billion for beer/cider and $2.04 billion for wine.


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