Nfld. & Labrador

Trouble brewing? Union fears job losses in St. John's if trade deal changes

Will the provincial government allow the sale of imported beers in corner stores? NAPE and St. John's Coun. Jonathan Galgay say doing so could shut down the Labatt and Molson breweries in St. John's.
NAPE said if the restriction on imported beer in corner stores is lifted, the Labatt and Molson breweries in St. John's could close.

A beer run to your local corner store may raise the question: Why the limited selection?

You won't find a six-pack of Guinness or Heineken at the mini mart in Newfoundland and Labrador, and there's a reason why.

The province's Agreement on Internal Trade only permits locally brewed beer behind those sliding glass doors, allowing the companies that invest locally to corner the corner store market. It's an incentive for outsiders like Labatt and Molson to make beer here.

But what would happen if that incentive disappeared? 

NAPE president Jerry Earle said the Labatt and Molson breweries employ more than 100 people. (NAPE.ca)

Jerry Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, fears the Labatt and Molson breweries would disappear too.

"The provision protects a couple of local industries that we have here," said Earle. "That provides quality jobs in the local economy."

That restriction on imported beer in corner stores is now being renegotiated along with the rest of the provincial agreement. The talks are part of the new Canadian free trade agreement, a national effort to reduce barriers and make inter-provincial trade smoother. 

The provincial government said it will not comment on the negotiations until the agreement has been finalized.

Beer or bust

Earle remains uneasy and wants people to know the stakes. He said the Labatt and Molson breweries in St. John's employ more than 100 people. 

"Would [the companies] really be concerned about the jobs in Newfoundland and Labrador? I would suggest not," said Earle. "They're more interested in ensuring they make a profit. We can't afford to lose jobs such as those." 

Earle said the union has voiced its concern to government officials and plans to keep an eye on the situation. 

Under the radar

St. John's Coun. Jonathan Galgay, whose ward includes the two breweries, is also trying to call attention to these negotiations. 

"It's really gone under the radar and it makes me extremely nervous." 

Coun. Jonathan Galgay also wants to call attention to these negotiations and the stakes involved. (CBC News)

Galgay says he fears a repeat of what happened with Scotsburn, a company also located in his ward that closed shop last month. Scotsburn shut down its ice cream plant, laid off 85 employees and transferred production to other plants on the mainland.

Galgay said losing the Labatt and Molson breweries would be another big blow.

"It would have huge implications for the employees and the distributors," said Galgay. "And it's all about jobs. That's why I want to ensure that we raise this matter … and it gets the attention that it really deserves."

Galgay said St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe also plans to raise the matter when he meets with MP Judy Foote in Ottawa next week.

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