Expansion of wine and beer sales in Ontario grocery stores condemned by OPSEU

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As promised, the Ontario government has announced the locations of sixty-seven additional grocery stores in the province where consumers can now buy beer, wine, and cider. Today is the first day that grocers can stock the products on their shelves. The Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa, said that twenty independent grocery stores and forty-seven large-chain stores like Loblaws could offer the products. There are already fifty-seven stores in Ontario selling beer and cider, the first dating back to December, 2015. Eventually 450 grocery stores will sell beer and cider, 300 of them also selling wine.

The change to beverage retailing is the result of recommendations made by the Premier’s Advisory Council on Government Assets. Another change allowed for online shopping at LCBO.com. According to the ministry of finance, the government conducted “extensive” industry consultations to establish a “fair and socially responsible model” for the sale of beer, wine and cider in grocery stores.

Loblaw Companies Limited issued its own statement about the development, saying that it now has more than 600 varieties of wine, beer and cider for sale in twenty new locations, adding to the original nineteen already selling beer and cider. The grocery chain says its stores will stock local and regional “favourites” as well as international products. In its beer offerings, the company has committed to equal shelf space for domestic and international brands, to the benefit of customers and small Ontario brewers. Depending on the type of authorization a store has, it must provide a minimum of 10 or 20 per cent of shelf space for products from small producers.

The Wine Council of Ontario has applauded what it calls Loblaw’s proactive efforts to provide VQA producers with new retail opportunities.

The majority of Ontarians do not support the privatization of the LCBO. Yet by putting wine in grocery stores, the government is doing just that, one bottle at a time. This move means less money for the government to pay for public services. It means reduced social responsibility when it comes to the sale of alcohol. And with the increased availability of alcohol, it means higher health and social costs.

Despite widespread public and industry approval of the liberalizing of beer and wine sales, one organization is dead set against it: the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, OPSEU. In a statement today, OPSEU called the move “another step in the backdoor privatization” of the LCBO. The majority of Ontarians do not support that privatization, said Denise Davis, chair of the OPSEU Liquor Board Employees Division. Putting wine in grocery stores is privatizing, she said, “one bottle at a time.” The more wine that is sold in grocery stores, the less will be sold in LCBO stores, meaning less money for the government to pay for public services and reduced social responsibility around the sale of alcohol. That, the union says, will mean higher health and social costs.

Calling both the “grocery store lobby” and the Ontario premier “villains” in the story, OPSEU claims that the privatizing of alcohol sales was done with “minimal” public consultation, in an effort by the  premier to “save her political hide.”

A map and list of grocery stores authorized to sell beer, wine and cider can be found at ontario.ca/morechoice.

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