One stop shop for fairness, choice and convenience

By Toby Barrett, MPP

Ontario remains committed to expand the sale of beer and wine to corner stores, big-box stores, and more grocery stores.

Recently-introduced government legislation will protect taxpayers while ending the Beer Store’s stranglehold on consumers and businesses.

Bill 115, The Bringing Choice and Fairness to the People Act will nullify the Master Framework Agreement signed by the previous government with the Beer Store and will fully protect Ontario taxpayers against any costs that may be sought for damages.

The Master Framework Agreement is a contract between the province, the Beer Store and the three large brewers who own it. The previous government entered into this contractual agreement in 2015 for a 10-year term— subject to a renewal for successive five-year terms. 

The province’s current beer distribution system is owned by three global giants who were handed this sweetheart deal by the previous government. It’s a near-monopoly that’s a bad deal for consumers and businesses and is deeply unfair to the people of Ontario.

Nowhere else in the world is a group of the largest global brewers given a near-monopoly and effective control of 70 per cent of the beer retail market. It’s an unfair agreement that puts the interests of large global brewers ahead of people and businesses in Ontario.

And let’s be clear, with any changes to alcohol retail there will be zero tolerance for alcohol abuse or drinking and driving. Our government is firmly committed to the safe and responsible sale and consumption of alcohol in Ontario. It is, and will continue to be, a top priority.

This is not about doing away with any parts of the system that are working. It’s about treating adults like adults…and trusting businesses and consumers to make the responsible choices that work best for them. That’s what is meant by putting people first.

Ontario’s special advisor, Ken Hughes, has been hard at work on the changes our government is proposing to make. His experience as chair of Alberta Health Services is informing the government’s approach ensuring change is implemented responsibly.

To quote Mr. Hughes’ report, “Ontario has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make meaningful change that will allow small businesses to flourish and create jobs while providing choice and convenience for the purchase of beverage alcohol. Over the past 92 years, successive governments have incrementally let rules, loopholes, institutions, and special interest develop a near-monopoly beer distribution system that primarily benefits a few larger brewers. Now is the chance to create a system built for the consumer, for the citizen, for the people.”

Alcohol reform is something long-desired by the people of Ontario. It came across loud and clear during our recent conversations with over 33,000 consumers and businesses that the current beverage alcohol system isn’t the best. Fairness, choice, and convenience have largely been absent.

For example, in terms of fairness, small craft brewers have a very low market share in The Beer Store at less than two per cent. At the same time, the demand for craft beer continues to increase year-over-year in Ontario with market share in the LCBO at 10 per cent and in grocery stores at 15 per cent. 

One year ago, we campaigned on a promise to put people first. This is not just about beer and wine, this is about creating fairness, choice, and convenience for Ontario consumers and producers.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk