June 24, 2024

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Ontario speeds up alcohol expansion; gives The Beer Store $225M

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The money is to ‘make the necessary investments’ for a stable transition in the market

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TORONTO — Ontario is speeding up its expansion of alcohol sales in the province, and the move comes with up to $225 million in public money for The Beer Store.

Premier Doug Ford announced late last year that sales of beer, wine, cider and ready-to-drink cocktails would be allowed in convenience stores and all grocery stores by 2026.

He announced Friday that the phased expansion will now start on Aug. 1 of this year, with licensed grocery stores that currently sell beer, cider and wine able to sell ready-to-drink cocktails and sell large-pack sizes like 30 packs.

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After Sept. 5, eligible convenience stores will be able to sell beer, cider, wine and ready-to-drink cocktails, and after Oct. 31, all grocery stores and big box stores could sell those products, including large-pack sizes. Over time, the changes will add up to 8,500 new places where people in Ontario could buy alcohol, the government said.

“We are delivering on our commitment to give consumers in Ontario the choice and convenience every other Canadian enjoys and we’re doing so even sooner than we had originally promised,” Ford wrote in a statement.

“In the coming weeks and months, people in Ontario, like many Canadians across the country, will have the option to responsibly and conveniently purchase a case of beer or a bottle of wine on their way up to the cottage or to a summer barbecue, all while having even more opportunity to support local Ontario breweries and wineries.”

An agreement the former Liberal government signed with The Beer Store in 2015 that gave the company exclusive rights to sell 12- and 24-packs of beer as the province expanded sales of beer and wine to grocery stores was set to expire at the end of 2025.

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As part of this new, earlier rollout of Ford’s plan to expand alcohol sales, an “early implementation agreement” signed with The Beer Store involves the province paying the company up to $225 million to support the transition, including to help it keep stores open and workers employed.

The money is to “make the necessary investments over the next 19 months to support a stable transition to a more open and convenient marketplace, including funding to protect jobs across the province and to keep The Beer Store locations open for the continued availability of recycling and bottle return,” the government said in a press release.

The Beer Store is set to retain a primary role in beer distribution and run its recycling program until at least 2031. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario will still be the only place to buy high-alcohol spirits, and it will remain a wholesaler. Retailers will get an interim wholesale discount of 10 per cent from the LCBO basic retail price until 2026.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will be responsible for licensing retailers, and the government says the expansion will come with stronger penalties for infractions. Retailers whose licences are revoked won’t be able to reapply for two years.

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The government is putting an additional $10 million over five years to support social responsibility, but a coalition of public health and advocacy organizations have called on the province to develop a comprehensive alcohol strategy for reducing harms.

The coalition, which includes the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Canadian Cancer Society, says alcohol-related harms cost Ontario more than $7 billion annually, and the last time access to alcohol was expanded in the province, the number of emergency department visits related to alcohol grew.

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