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Ontario quietly moving ahead with convenience store beer sales

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Ontario has been quietly consulting with stakeholders on how best to bring Premier Doug Ford’s pledge of selling beer in corner stores to fruition, with at least one advocacy group saying they hope to see the market expand by Canada Day 2024.

It’s a promise years in the making. Ford first presented the idea as part of his 2018 election campaign, passing a bill the following year that would axe an existing deal with The Beer Store preventing the expansion.

The Master Framework Agreement (MFA) was first signed in 2015 under the previous Liberal government. The agreement, which limited the expansion of beer and wine sales to 450 grocery stores, expires in 2025.

Negotiations between the government and Beer Store owners have been contentious, which is likely why it has taken so long for the province to move ahead with their proposal. Progressive Conservatives have argued the agreement was a “terrible deal for Ontario consumers” and that it has allowed large beer companies to monopolize alcohol sales.

In the spring of 2023, the Ford government launched consultations on expanding sales to corner stores. Participants were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements, so little is known about what is on the table.

Dave Bryans, CEO of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, says he received an invitation to consult on the proposal.

“We are inching if not moving faster towards an open market,” he told CTV News Toronto on Tuesday, noting that he has participated in multiple consultation processes over 13 years and signed numerous NDAs that prevent him from talking about the meetings themselves.

“I think we're going to go forward and I hope by next Canada Day, there'll be some level of convenience stores that will be able to service the community.”

Bryans said he anticipates it will take time before the expansion takes place but that it would provide more convenience for shoppers while supporting small business.

He also said he could see the expansion starting with beer and ready-to-drink beverages like pre-mixed cocktails and coolers.

“I think we have to start somewhere and we have to start testing the market.”

The Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) has publicly expressed concerns about expanding alcohol to corner stores, although it says it declined to participate in the consultation process due to the NDA, arguing the organization wanted to share updates with its membership prior to an official announcement.

Instead, it released a letter in May outlining the “inevitable consequences of illnesses, deaths and social harms to our citizens that will follow with increased sales and consumption of alcohol in Ontario.”

“There's lots and lots of research that tells us that as consumption of alcohol goes up, there are so many related harms that could happen,” John Atkinson, executive director of OPHA, said in an interview with CTV News Toronto.

“These kinds of harms include everything from increases in chronic disease like cancer, because alcohol is a known carcinogen, [and] increases in streets and domestic violence, road crashes, thefts.”

Atkinson argued that alcohol is readily available for consumers at Beer Stores, LCBO stores, and a number of other retailers.

“There's no need to expand sales beyond where they are right now,” he said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government allowed restaurants to sell alcohol with food as part of a delivery and takeout order and expanded a liquor licence to a 7-Eleven in Leamington with in-store dining. Dozens of other 7-Eleven locations in southwestern Ontario have also applied for a licence.

The government is working towards a September deadline in terms of its negotiations with the Beer Store and consultations with stakeholders, in order to give enough time for a transition as the MFA expires. A spokesperson within the Minister of Finance’s office told CTV News Toronto that while it can’t disclose details of the discussions, “the government supports meaningful change to alcohol sales in Ontario.”

“This is one of many priorities for the government and we look forward to continuing to deliver choice to Ontarians and new opportunities for businesses,” Emily Hogeveen, director of media relations with the minister’s office, said in a statement.

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