Ottawa

Smaller eastern Ontario communities feeling left out of cannabis draw

Some eastern Ontario mayors say they feel disadvantaged compared to larger municipalities in the province's cannabis licence process because of the size of their population.

Ottawa location only winner in 2nd round of licence draw

Some mayors in eastern Ontario say the way the latest cannabis shop lottery process by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario was structured puts smaller communities at a disadvantage. (Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images)

Some eastern Ontario mayors say they feel disadvantaged compared to larger municipalities in the process to get a legal cannabis shop because of the size of their population.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario announced Wednesday the 42 winners out of 4,864 eligible entrants to its second lottery allowing applications for licences for cannabis businesses. 

This time, stores in southern Ontario could be opened in any municipality regardless of population size, versus the first round when a minimum population was one of the conditions.

But again, none of the winners come from the rural counties and communities that surround Ottawa — and only one was in eastern Ontario, in Barrhaven.

Another proposal in Orléans is one of the next applications on the wait list.

"We realize that there are more people in the larger centres who want to open this kind of business [than in smaller areas]," said Hawkesbury Mayor Paula Assaly in a French-language interview with Radio-Canada. 

"So the chances of their names [that of candidates from larger cities] being drawn from the lottery are much higher than in smaller centres."

Her town, which Statistics Canada found had a population of nearly 12,000 people when it included Grenville, Que., just across the Ottawa River, is smaller than every other winner except for one this time.

The city of Kenora near the Manitoba border has about 10,700 people, but the lottery was set up so it and four other northern Ontario communities were guaranteed a potential licence.

Assaly said she wants to wait for a third wave of lottery winners before deciding whether she will make recommendations to improve the process.

Hawkesbury had one of the region's 976 eligible applications.

Some mayors remain hopeful

Clarence-Rockland Mayor Guy Desjardins, whose community had two applications, said he also feels disadvantaged compared to larger municipalities.

But despite everything, he said he remains optimistic and believes that the next lottery, whenever it happens, could be favourable to him.

"Next year, there should be more permits issued and there is a good chance of having a store here," he said.

Mayor Guy Desjardins says the City of Clarence-Rockland remains optimistic about the lottery process to grant operating licences for cannabis businesses. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The mayor of Russell, which didn't get any eligible applications this time, said he does not see any major problems mainly because cannabis users can also shop online. 

"If someone is not near a store … a couple of clicks and you have it delivered in a few days," said Pierre Leroux.

Pierre Leroux is mayor of Russell, Ont., population of about 16,500 as of the last census. (Olivia Chandler/CBC)

He said he can understand why eastern Ontario might not be a hot spot for a cannabis store. 

"I think from a business perspective, you're going to open a store where there's the most bang for your buck," he said. 

"The population base in eastern Ontario is low compared to major urban centres."

He said more stores could be a good thing for the region because it would offer residents an additional choice of where to buy. 

With files from Radio-Canada's Yasmine Mehdi

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