With the Progressive Conservative government finishing its first budget for April 11 and appointing a special adviser for its review of alcohol sales, the Ontario Convenience Stores Association is hoping to be able to sell beer and wine in convenience stores by Christmas.
Earlier in March, Ontario’s finance minister Vic Fedeli had announced plans to proceed with expansion of beer and wine sales in corner stores, big box stores, and a larger number of grocery stores. According to Fedeli, Ontario has the lowest density of retail outlets which sell beer, wine, cider and spirits in Canada, with fewer than 3,000 outlets that selling alcohol compared to Quebec’s 8,000.
The president of Ontario Convenience Stores Association, Dave Bryans, expressed his gratitude for the planned changes. “Hats off to this government. Finally there is a government that understands.” In terms of the timeline of the implemented changes, Bryans expects the necessary conditions to be set in place within six months. “If there’s ever a time for change, when it comes to the duopoly controlling alcohol and beer, now is the time… I hope we’re cutting the ribbon by fall.”
In an interview with CBC News, Mississauga convenience store owner Bhavin Shah, said that Ontario’s plan to allow the sale of alcohol in convenience stores not only a means to increase customer traffic, but also an important opportunity to save the dwindling convenience store industry. “Every day… stores [are] closing down in Ontario because of the high rent, lots of red dips and low margins… This will help to get the customer inside,” he said.
However, the Ontario Safety League has already expressed concerns related to beer and wine sales in corner stores. Brian Patterson, president of the Ontario Safety League, told CBC Toronto that the Conservative government’s plan could have significant negative consequences. “Evidence has shown that if you lessen the regulation so you can buy a single alcoholic beverage… it leads to people treating it as another beverage while driving,” he said. “In my 60 years, I don’t know anybody’s ever said ‘I don’t know where I’m going to get beer.'”
Moreover, representatives from Queen’s Park and the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco were also concerned by the actions of the Conservative to relax regulations around convenience stores by eliminating a regulation from the Liberal government aimed to prohibit promotion of vaping in stores in order to prevent underage teenagers from buying vaping products before they become of legal age.