U.S. Chamber of Commerce calls on Ford to honour contract with The Beer Store

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling on Doug Ford to maintain Ontario's contract with The Beer Store. The organization says legislation to end the deal will send a dangerous message to investors.

The PCs say the existing contract excludes small business owners

The existing contract between Ontario and The Beer Store runs until 2025. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling on Doug Ford to maintain Ontario's contract with The Beer Store.

The organization voiced its concerns over the proposed legislation, called the Bringing Choice and Fairness to the People Act, in a letter addressed to Ford on Tuesday.

"It is essential [that] this process be conducted in a manner that ensures the sanctity of existing contracts be honored," wrote Neil Herrington, the chamber's senior vice president.

The legislation would allow Ontario to prematurely end an existing 10-year contract with The Beer Store, which was signed by the previous Liberal government.

Ending the deal would pave the way for beer and wine to be sold in more locations, such as convenience stores and small groceries, though it could also trigger large financial penalties written into the existing contract.

"Our strong concern is that terminating an existing contract, and doing so without compensation… risks sending a negative signal to U.S. and other international investors about the business and investment climate in Ontario," Herrington added.

The Beer Store is predominantly owned by Canada's three multinational brewing companies: Labatt, Molson and Sleeman.

PC MPPs took part in a co-ordinated social media blitz calling for expanded beer and wine sales over the past weekend.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a pro-business lobbying group that represents more than three million companies.

Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said the existing contract 'hurts the people of Ontario.' (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

PCs say 'sweetheart deal' can't stand

Ford has not responded to the letter, but Finance Minister Vic Fedeli has addressed the concerns.

In a statement, Fedeli blamed the "sweetheart deal" signed by the Kathleen Wynne Liberals, and argued that its conditions locked out small business owners from the beer and wine market.

He said the PCs have a right to tear up the contract.

"Our parliamentary system ensures that a new government is not bound by a bad deal signed by a previous government that hurts the people of Ontario," Fedeli said.

"The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and all chambers of commerce, should be encouraged by our government's tax reforms and plan to reduce red tape," he added.

In its letter, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce thanked Ford for his visit to Washington, D.C. in 2018, and praised his government's changes around tax reform and the implementation of other "pro-business" policies.

Still, the chamber believes that ending the contract "could undermine the constructive work you and your government have done and the case the Ford Government has made that the province is open for business."