More than a dozen powerful Liberals have gone to work for the Beer Store in recent years, lobbying the government on behalf of the foreign corporations that enjoy a private monopoly on beer retail in Ontario.
A Globe and Mail analysis of lobbying and other records found at least 17 Liberal workers who moved, in the past decade and a half, to the Beer Store or the companies that own it.
These include a top campaign adviser to Premier Kathleen Wynne, two former chiefs of staff to her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, and several former aides to Ontario cabinet ministers.
The Beer Store and its owners, U.S.-based Molson Coors, Belgium's AB InBev and Sapporo of Japan, have burrowed into the province's political culture, sponsoring government events – a 2013 premiers' conference at Niagara-on-the-Lake, for instance – and supplying beer for fundraisers.
(What's the story behind The Beer Store and its lucrative monopoly in Ontario? Read The Globe's easy explanation)
Such relationships have never been more important as the Beer Store faces the largest single threat in its history. A government advisory panel led by former banker Ed Clark recommended giving craft brewers more opportunity to sell their products. And a wide array of businesses – including independent brewers, restaurateurs and convenience stores – want the Beer Store's cartel arrangement abolished.
The Beer Store has much to protect. The Globe calculates its owners make about $400-million more in the monopoly system than they would in an open market. Their arrangement gives them the exclusive right to retail 24- and 12-packs and to sell the most popular brands to bars and restaurants. Very little competition is allowed, which means the Beer Store controls 80 per cent of sales in the province. Other brewers must pay the owners a fee to sell in their stores.
On Thursday, the government is planning to announce changes to the system. And so far, sources say, the changes are only minor: allowing some larger grocery stores to sell beer and wine, but keeping the Beer Store's monopoly on major parts of the market.
Ms. Wynne's office repeatedly refused to divulge how many times the Premier or her staff have been lobbied by the Beer Store, and defended lobbying as "an essential part of democracy."
"As part of this process it is important for our government to have discussions with the businesses, individuals and unions that these changes would affect," Ms. Wynne's spokeswoman, Zita Astravas, wrote in an e-mail. "Lobbying is an essential part of democracy that touches all three parties."
Finance Minister Charles Sousa's office did not respond to questions about the Beer Store's attempts to lobby him. Neither did any of the Liberals who work for the industry and are named in this story.
Hiring political workers as lobbyists is an age-old method for getting an inside track on influencing government. People who have long-standing relationships with government staffers are thought to be a good bet for securing the time and attention of public officials. And the Beer Store has proven adept at bringing them on board.
Bob Lopinski, who ran Ms. Wynne's war room during last June's election campaign, signed up to lobby the Premier's office on behalf of AB InBev subsidiary Labatt less than a month after voting day. A long-time lobbyist with Counsel Public Affairs, Mr. Lopinski also worked on Mr. McGuinty's campaigns.
Kim Donaldson, who was an adviser to Mr. McGuinty and served on Ms. Wynne's transition team when she took over as Premier in 2013, has been registered to lobby for Molson since last summer. She currently works for the Capital Hill Group.
Others include Chris Morley, Jeff Ryan and Charlie Angelakos, who run Labatt's corporate affairs department. Mr. Morley is a former chief of staff to Mr. McGuinty; Mr. Ryan worked for John Manley, when he was federal finance minister in 2003, and the provincial transportation minister from 2004 to 2007; Mr. Angelakos worked in the office of then-prime minister Jean Chrétien between 1998 and 2002.
When Labatt sponsored the Council of the Federation, the annual premiers' conference, in July, 2013, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Mr. Morley was there to represent the company. He was a visible presence on the sidelines, mingling with political staffers – some of whom were once his subordinates – during an evening of dinner and drinks on the town's historic main street.
An internal e-mail obtained by The Globe reveals that Don Guy, another of Mr. McGuinty's former chiefs of staff, has also worked for the Beer Store. The February, 2014, e-mail chain, a discussion of the company's social media strategy, also includes Mr. Morley and Mr. Angelakos.
Mr. Guy, who ran Mr. McGuinty's office in his first term, masterminded the former premier's three election victories. And he remained close to Mr. McGuinty's orbit after leaving government: during the gas-plant scandal in the fall of 2012, Mr. Guy advised Mr. McGuinty's staff on handling the fallout.
Ms. Wynne's promise of reform is one in a long line of such pledges – all of which have fizzled.
Former premiers David Peterson and Mike Harris both pledged to liberalize the province's alcohol market, but did not follow through. Mr. Harris even pulled a spectacular u-turn while in office: under his watch, the province cut a secret deal that entrenched The Beer Store's monopoly by sanctioning its exclusive right to sell 24 and 12-packs, and to supply the most popular brands to bars.
A handful of Progressive Conservatives – The Globe counted eight – have also worked for the Beer Store and its owners over the years. Most prominent is Emma Breen, vice-president of Canada's National Brewers, the lobby group for the Beer Store owners. Ms. Breen previously worked as a senior policy adviser in Mr. Harris's government.