Ontario Cannabis Store staffing shrouded in mystery

The Ford government and its online marijuana retailer are refusing to provide basic factual information about staffing levels at the Ontario Cannabis Store, raising questions about the reasons behind its delays in shipping pot.

Neither OCS nor Ford government will say how many people working for pot retailer

Product on pallets are pictured at the Ontario Cannabis Store distribution centre in an undated handout photo. (The Canadian Press/Submitted by Ontario Cannabis Store)

The Ford government and its online marijuana retailer are refusing to provide basic factual information about staffing levels at the Ontario Cannabis Store and its warehouse, raising questions about the reasons behind its delays in shipping pot.

All of Ontario's legal weed is being stashed at one warehouse, operated by an unnamed private company contracted by the Ontario Cannabis Store, in a location that's being kept secret for obvious security reasons.

The province's weed retailer struggled to handle the volume of 150,000 orders placed in the week following legalization, with many delays reported.  So CBC News tried to find out if under-staffing contributed to the delays, which officials are blaming on unexpectedly high demand.

Neither the finance minister nor the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) will say how many people are working at the warehouse or for this Crown corporation overall.

"I know that there continue to be some issues [with shipments] but I'm very confident actually that the Ontario Cannabis Store is working through these, it's a brand new business," said Finance Minister Vic Fedeli 

Asked for staffing numbers, Fedeli said the question would have to go to OCS. 

This image supplied by the OCS shows the store's distribution centre. The OCS website says the pot will be delivered by Canada Post in plain packages. (Submitted: Ontario Cannabis Store)

CBC News asked OCS officials on Thursday morning how many people are employed by the agency and for a rough breakdown of those staff by duties, such as customer service, warehouse workers, IT staff and management. 

The agency did not provide any numbers by the end of Friday. 

"Efficiencies and ways to further expand capacity at the OCS distribution facility have been made to help meet demand," said the agency's director of communications Daffyd Roderick in an email. 

By contrast, the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch provided details of its cannabis staffing within a few hours.

The branch says employs about 100 warehouse staff at its distribution centre to receive shipments and pack orders to online customers. It has another 30 staff working at its customer care centre. It also employs four managers and 18 cannabis consultants at its lone retail storefront, in Kamloops.

Premier Doug Ford's government contracted out the operation of the warehouse to a private company, but will not name it. 

The firm is a "third-party logistics company [that] specializes in operating distribution centres and e-commerce fulfilment services and has significant experience working with leading retailers across North America," said Roderick in an email.  

Pallets of product are pictured at the Ontario Cannabis Store distribution centre in an undated handout photo. (The Canadian Press/Submitted by Ontario Cannabis Store)

"For security reasons, the OCS will not be providing any further details around the location or operations of the third-party distribution centre." 

It's also not clear how that company got the contract. 

OCS says the firm was retained "through a competitive process." But there's no public record that the contract was put out for open tender.  

"This warehouse and distribution system went out to a secret tender, a secret contract," OPSEU president Smokey Thomas said in an interview Friday.

Thomas said he wants to make it clear to the public that a private sector firm is handling the pot distribution and that his union does not represent people working for the Ontario Cannabis Store. 

"Doug Ford privatized it, so it's actually a privatized institution that's made a colossal mess of cannabis distribution," he said. 

"We are vehemently opposed to privatization because every scandal in Ontario with taxpayer dollars has involved the private sector, every one without fail." 

A worker examines cannabis products at the Ontario Cannabis Store distribution centre in an undated handout photo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

CBC News requested an interview Friday with the CEO of Ontario Cannabis Store, Patrick Ford, focused on the company's staffing levels, procurement of the warehouse contract, and the demand for pot since legalization day. The request was denied. 

"We are not conducting interviews at this time, said OCS communications manager Amanda Winton in an email. 

The OCS is set up as a Crown corporation, with a board of directors appointed by cabinet. That makes it similar to the province's big three Crown agencies: the LCBO, Ontario Lottery and Gaming, and Ontario Power Generation.

The previous Liberal government planned to keep monopoly control of all recreational weed sales through a retail arm operated by the LCBO.

The PCs dumped that plan and will instead license private firms to set up cannabis storefronts,starting April 1. 

About the Author

Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C. Follow him on Twitter @CBCQueensPark