Push for beer in Ontario corner stores won't succeed

The Ontario government is denying a request by the province's convenience stores to sell beer and wine at some locations.
Convenience store owners in Ontario want to be allowed to sell beer and wine. (Associated Press )

The Ontario government is denying a request by the province's convenience stores to sell beer and wine at some locations.

The Ontario Convenience Stores Association held a news conference at Queen's Park on Wednesday in which it presented a petition with 112,500 signatures from across the province supporting the idea of broader retail availability of beer and wine.

But a finance ministry spokesman told CBC News that while the government takes the proposal by the convenience store association seriously, it believes the public is served well by the current system.

The LCBO is an effective way to govern public interest, said Scott Blodgett.

The petition to allow convenience stores to sell beer and wine has more than 112,000 signatories. (Kimberly Gale/CBC)

Ontario’s opposition parties had a mixed reaction to the petition.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak questioned if "the old solutions from the 1930s and '40s that the government should run the alcohol business in the province from top to bottom" were still appropriate today.

New Democrat critic Rosario Marchese said the LCBO was a "pretty good system" which provides strong revenues for the province and restricts youth access to alcohol.

"I think our priority should be making the system work better, not new schemes that make it easier for young people to get their hands on alcohol."

Long-running debate

Former Liberal premier David Peterson promised to allow corner stores to sell beer and wine in the 1980s, but it never happened.

The same idea was under consideration by the last PC government in Ontario, but Hudak said it was dropped when the LCBO extended its hours and began operating on Sundays.

However, Hudak said he’s "been a long proponent of some kind of choice in the system," because of the benefit to consumers that competition brings.

Steve Tennant, vice-president of Hasty Market Corporation, says convenience stores are ready to handle the increased responsibility that would come with selling alcohol.

"We've commissioned studies, and gone out and done mystery shops. and confirmed that convenience stores do a better job asking for ID," said Tennant.

Association CEO Dave Bryans says convenience stores are already selling alcohol in more than 200 Ontario communities that don't have stand-alone LCBO outlets.

Bryans says it's time to give consumers more options and allow corner stores to sell beer and wine. Even if changes were to be enacted, not all stores would be qualilfied to sell the booze, he said.

"You'd have to be certified. You'd have to be smart-serve trained. And lastly, you would have to be zero tolerant. And we would set a new standard in age testing to make sure," he said.

"We're already the best at age testing. We would make that standard as well in the alcohol retailing in Ontario."

But Simona Singh isn't so sure about the proposed chance. She lives downtown and says the move could create new problems.

"Easier access for the kids to get to. No definitely not," she said.

The petition was started in the hamlet of Vanessa, southwest of Brantford, where the 80 local residents complain they have to drive 20 minutes to buy a bottle of wine.

With files from The Canadian Press