Ontario is preparing changes to the way alcoholic beverages are sold, but it will not permit beer sales in corner stores, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday.
It was another Liberal premier, David Peterson, who first promised Ontarians back in the 1980s that they'd be able to buy beer and wine at the corner store, just like their neighbours in Quebec. But Peterson never delivered on the pledge, and Wynne said the idea is now off the table.
"We're not going to have beer in convenience stores," she said. "There is change coming however."
Wynne said she's been concerned about the foreign-owned Beer Store's virtual monopoly on 80 per cent of beer sales in Ontario since she ran for the Liberal leadership more than two years ago.
"I was concerned about the functioning of the Beer Store. I was concerned about the access of craft brewers to the Beer Store, and so from that time I've been committed to making change," she said. "It's not whether there will be change. It's just a matter of what that change will be, so stay tuned."
Wynne appointed former TD Bank CEO Ed Clark to examine the relationship between the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and the Beer Store as part of a review aimed at squeezing the maximum value out of all government assets.
"We now have Ed Clark and his commissioners, who are looking at the [alcohol] distribution system in the province," she said. "They're looking at the LCBO and as a result of that looking at the Beer Store, so there are changes coming."
Clark rejected privatizing the LCBO in an interim report, and recommended the Beer Store give taxpayers a "fair share" of its profits, saying its virtual monopoly could be auctioned off if the Beer Store doesn't want to pay a still undetermined fee to the government.
Craft brewers in Ontario say their market share is being held back by the Beer Store, which makes it difficult – and expensive – for them to sell their products in its 448 retail outlets.
The Beer Store countered with an offer to let craft brewers buy a share in the operation and promised to make it easier for them to list their products.
The smaller brewers reacted with skepticism, and said they wanted to wait and see what action the government takes.
Jeff Fisher of Indie Ale House in Toronto said the Beer Store's offer was meant to "take the heat off"' the big brewers in the face of Clark's recommendation to overhaul Ontario's alcohol system and charge a fee to the consortium.
Clark's final report will be given to the government in time for the recommendations to be included in the spring budget, but it is not expected to be made public before then.
The Beer Store, the commercial name for Brewers Retail, was owned by a consortium of Ontario-based brewers when it was set up in 1927, but is now owned by Molson-Coors of the United States, AB InBev of Belgium and Sapporo of Japan.