Spirits industry warns of job losses, tax shortfalls if denied access to retail shelves

Ontario's distilleries say jobs and government revenue will be at risk if spirits aren't given the same access to corner and grocery stores as beer and wine.

More wine and beer sales in retail stores has been a priority for the Doug Ford administration

The massive fermentation hall at Windsor's Hiram Walker distillery, the largest beverage alcohol distillery in North America. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Ontario's distilleries say jobs and government revenue will be at risk if spirits aren't given the same access to corner and grocery stores as beer and wine.

Expanding alcohol sales to corner and grocery stores has been one of the Ontario Progressive Conservative government's top priorities, but the discussion has primarily centred on beer and wine sales.

This week, the spirits industry made it clear that they want in too.

Spirits Canada, which represents the province's largest distilleries — including Hiram Walker in Windsor, Ont. — released a report Thursday aimed at exploring the future of Ontario's hard alcohol industry.

The report, authored by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis but commissioned by the Spirits Canada industry group, says that "a change in market access" may cause spirit sales to decrease by $415 million, leading to 1,500 jobs being "at risk annually."

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By 2030, the report continues, federal and provincial coffers could lose nearly $1 billion in tax revenue.

Jan Westcott, president and CEO of Spirits Canada, said his group is concerned that Ontario distilleries could face a similar fate as their Quebec counterparts after beer and wine sales were allowed in that province's grocery stores.

"When that happened in 1982, the spirits industry in Quebec held about 40 per cent of the [the province's] beverage alcohol market," he said. "Seven or eight years later, with not being in grocery stores, our market share had collapsed to about 14 per cent."

"It devastated the business. We closed most of our distilleries in Quebec."

According to the report, Windsor-Essex has the highest number of distilling-related jobs in Ontario. 

While Westcott admits that his members export a majority of their products, he insists that a strong home market is key to sustaining distilleries, with Ontario sales currently supporting 30 per cent of production.

"There are no businesses that survive strictly as exporters on the consumer product side," he said. "Nobody survives strictly on exports."

Westcott spoke with Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre about the report. Tap the player to hear more:

Ontario's distilleries say if they're not given the same access to corner and grocery stores as beer and wine, jobs and government revenue would be at significant risk. We spoke to Jan Westcott, president of Spirits Canada. 6:11

The Spirits Canada CEO said he's hopeful the province will listen to what his group is saying, noting that he has been having "robust discussions" with the government.

"The thing got kind of off on the wrong foot originally with [Ontario Premier Doug Ford] talking about beer and wine in corner stores," he said. "The premier doesn't even drink, so, did he really just mean beer and wine?"

"What we're trying to do is say 'Guys, it has to be everybody. Why would you treat products that are made in Ontario by Ontario workers less fairly than you treat products from other countries or the other categories?'"

About the Author

Jonathan Pinto is a reporter/editor at CBC Windsor, primarily assigned to Afternoon Drive, CBC Radio's regional afternoon show for southwestern Ontario. Email


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