‘We’re moving forward’: Ford insists five-year-old promise to end Beer Store monopoly is coming

By Richard Southern, John Marchesan

It’s looking more and more likely it will be last call for The Beer Store in Ontario.

Premier Doug Ford said Friday he plans to finally make good on a five-year-old promise to bring beer and wine sales to the corner store.

“We’re the only jurisdiction in the entire world that you can’t go into the retail store and buy a case of beer or a bottle of wine when you’re buying a steak for dinner or whatever you’re buying,” the premier said during a separate announcement in Mississauga on Friday. “It just doesn’t make sense so we’re moving forward with it.”

Since the end of prohibition, beer in Ontario has primarily been sold at The Beer Store which began as a collection of Canadian brewers. These days, two multinational companies – Molson Coors and Anheuser-Busch InBev – own a majority of the operation which has 424 locations across the province, giving it a huge competitive advantage.

In 2015, the Liberals under Kathleen Wynne unveiled the Master Framework Agreement (MFA) which allowed some grocery stores the opportunity to bid for beer-selling licenses. Currently, there are 450 grocery stores selling beer and wine across the province.

Shortly after Ford and the Conservatives took office, he attempted to cancel the MFA with the privately owned beer store only to find out it would cost the province millions of dollars to prematurely end the contract. Now, Ford is prepared to let the agreement expire in 2025, which would then pave the way for beer and wine sales across a number of retail outlets.

The union which represents 7,000 beer store employees says allowing local retailers to sell beer and wine would be “catastrophic” for its business.

“We’ve been distributing beer in Ontario since 1927. I know some people say it’s archaic but we do it well, we do it safely, we do it efficiently,” said John Nock, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Local 12R24. “We do it at the same cost to buy beer in downtown Toronto as downtown Thunder Bay.”

The union has said the addition of beer to Ontario grocery stores has not created extra jobs or increased beer sales in the province and that moving towards convenience and big box stores would hurt consumer choice by reducing product selection. It’s also warned that Ford’s plan could result in higher beer prices, pointing to Alberta which it says has some of the highest beer prices in Canada since privatization took place in the 1990s.

The government’s plan would also put one of the world’s most successful recycling programs at risk, according to the union.

Ford said The Beer Store would still “play an important role” without getting into specifics.

“We’re working alongside The Beer Store, we’re in negotiations and we’re going to keep our promise to make sure we have convenience and selection across the province like you see across the entire world,” said Ford.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has warned that the cost of making sales of alcohol easier and more convenient is an increase in alcohol deaths.

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