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Canada Majority of Ontarians say time to end Beer Store’s monopoly

A Beer Store located in Oakville is seen in this file photo.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

The vast majority of Ontarians want The Beer Store's lucrative private monopoly taken away from the three foreign brewing corporations who currently own it, a new poll suggests.

The Mainstreet Technologies survey found 70 per cent support for major changes to the company, a clear message for the province's Liberal government as it contemplates options for reforming the system.

"It is a pretty strong sentiment," said Mainstreet President Quito Maggi. "Maybe it's time to look at models like those used in other provinces, such as Alberta and Quebec, where beer is sold in convenience stores and supermarkets. Maybe it's an idea whose time has come."

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The Beer Store -- owned by U.S.-based Molson Coors, Belgium's AB InBev and Sapporo of Japan -- enjoys a monopoly on beer retailing in the province.

In recent months, this arrangement has faced unprecedented opposition from craft brewers, restaurateurs and convenience store owners. A government advisory panel has recommended reforming the system to make it easier for small brewers to sell their products, and getting more money out of The Beer Store for government.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised to make changes, and a final decision is expected before the spring budget.

Earlier this month, The Beer Store responded to the pressure by allowing Ontario brewers to buy a small stake in the company. Many craft brewers said it was too little, too late.

The Mainstreet poll found most Ontarians feel the same: 70 per cent of respondents said the changes do not go far enough.

The survey also found that most people (45 per cent) erroneously believed The Beer Store is owned by the government. Only 10 per cent knew the company is actually run by multinational corporations. When informed of The Beer Store's true ownership, 68 per cent of respondents said they disapprove.

The most popular options for reform were turning majority control of The Beer Store over to Ontario brewers (30 per cent), giving control of all beer sales to the provincial government as at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (23 per cent) and selling beer in corner stores and supermarkets (17 per cent.)

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"There's a good level of public support for some reforms in the way the Beer Store is regulated, governed and owned," Mr. Maggi said.

The Beer Store started in 1927 as a cooperative of Ontario brewers. Over the years, through mergers and acquisitions, it ended up under the control of the multinationals. A Globe and Mail analysis calculates the system is worth $400-million more to its owners than if they had to compete in a more open beer retail market.

The Mainstreet poll surveyed 2,890 Ontarians of legal drinking age Monday, using interactive voice response. The results are considered accurate plus or minus 1.82 per centage points, 19 times out of 20.

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