Hamilton

What alcohol coming to corner stores means when you're an alcoholic

David Brace has been sober for two years, six months and four days. Now, he says, the province's move to put alcohol in corner stores is weighing heavily on him.

PC MPP's Twitter campaign signals trying times for people with addictions, says David Brace

David Brace stands inside his former b contemporary gallery on James Street North. As a recovering alcoholic, he says the province's move to put alcohol in corner stores is weighing heavily on him. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Two years, six months and four days.

That's how long David Brace has been sober.

It's been a long road, but he's making progress. Happiness is now tangible in a way it never was when he was drinking.

But the newfound stability in his life was shaken last weekend, when Progressive Conservative MPPs launched a Twitter campaign extolling support for expanding beer and wine sales to convenience stores in Ontario.

When you're a recovering alcoholic, Brace says, that campaign is a harbinger of just how much your life is about to change.

"Suddenly my feed is being blanketed with these photos and a prepared script," he said.

"Walking into the local variety store now becomes a minefield — emotionally, and for resolve."

An integral part of Brace's recovery was to alter his "engrained geography." Once, it was second nature to walk from his former art gallery on James Street North to the bar, or the nearest liquor store.

"I had to create new paths," he said. That meant avoiding places where he could easily purchase alcohol as much as possible.

The first weak spot in those defences appeared when the previous Liberal government introduced beer sales in grocery stores. "So I started avoiding a whole end of Fortinos," Brace said.

"Now, more of the walls and doors that provide me support are gone," he said. "I realized my geography has closed off even more."

Opposition calls campaign 'a gimmick'

This weekend's Twitter campaign follows legislation introduced last week that would allow the province to rip up a 10-year contract with The Beer Store signed by the previous Liberal government. The deal permitted an expansion of beer and wine sales to hundreds of grocery stores, but also gave a coalition of big brewers considerable control over the rollout.

To put beer and wine in corner stores, the province has to break an agreement signed with Beer Store co-owners Molson, Labatt and Sleeman. The Beer Store has already indicated it plans to file a legal challenge over the termination.

Ontario NDP finance critic Sandy Shaw called the campaign "unfortunate" and pointed to a significant number of critical replies coming from Twitter users.

"It looks like a gimmick. It's not a good look on them to be talking about beer and wine in corner stores when everyday Ontarians have other concerns," Shaw said in a previous interview.

Ivana Yelich, spokesperson for the premier's office, said in a statement that the PCs made a campaign promise to bring "more choice" to people in Ontario.

"The fact that the government is moving ahead with its plan to expand the sale of beer and wine for Ontario consumers should come as no surprise to anyone," Yelich said.

Brace says Ontarians aren't hurting for choice. "We don't have a booze desert."

Not a partisan issue

Brace is also quick to point out this isn't about political parties, in his mind. "This isn't an issue of partisanship, or one party," he explained. "I don't want to be part of a political noise … this thing is happening, I don't care who is doing it."

He's also cognizant that other provinces allow alcohol sales in corner stores, and that people will say their right to choice shouldn't be trumped by his recovery.

Instead, he's imploring for a measured response — pilot projects, increased funding for mental health and addictions services, and for more consultation with medical professionals on how this move might affect people with addictions.

"[MPPs] all have constituents who are battling these issues, and they should be representing them, too."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

With files from Muriel Draaisma