The Ford government has announced that it will be expanding the sale of beverage alcohol to hundreds of new stores throughout the province starting this summer.
Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said the province will allow 87 more grocery stores to sell alcohol, as well as over 200 new “LCBO Convenience Outlets.”
The announcement came after the government passed a bill Thursday to further its efforts to end a 10-year agreement with The Beer Store that limits the number of stores that can sell alcohol.
“By opening up more alcohol retail outlets across the province, we are not only making life easier for people, we are enabling economic opportunities for hundreds of new businesses,” Fedeli said.
Fedeli made the announcement outside of the Yummy Market grocery store in North York Thursday afternoon.
Fedeli said most of the 87 grocery stores will be allowed to start selling alcohol beginning in September, bringing the total number of grocery stores selling alcohol in the province to 450.
The minister also announced the expansion of LCBO agency stores in the province which will open in nearly 200 “underserved communities.”
“These new locations will now appropriately be called ‘LCBO Convenience Outlets,’” Fedeli said. “Whether driving to the cottage or running errands, consumers across Ontario will now have more places to pick up beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages.”
Fedeli said 60 of those stores are set to open in August, and then another 150 in December, and further expansion in spring 2020.
The announcement came as the government continues to face criticism over its efforts to terminate a 10-year contract with The Beer Store in a bid to expand alcohol sales across the province.
The government passed Bill 115, called the “Bringing Choice and Fairness to the People Act,” in the legislature Thursday morning, which paves the way for ending the contact. The government is now set to go into negotiations with The Beer Store before the contract can be terminated.
Cancelling the contract with The Beer Store, which is owned by Molson, Labatt, and Sleeman, could come with massive financial penalties for the province, though Fedeli has said those costs would be nullified through legislation.
Both The Beer Store and the union representing its employees have criticized the move, saying it will lead to thousands of job losses, as well as higher alcohol costs.
The Ford government denies those claims.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also criticized efforts to tear up the contract on Wednesday, saying that the termination of an existing contract without compensation would “risk sending a negative signal” to investors.
Ontario opposition parties have also been strongly critical of the government’s efforts to end the contact.
The Ontario NDP responded in a statement to the passage of Bill 115 Thursday by saying the government appears to be “more interested in pushing beer” rather than addressing more pressing issues in the province, like the lack of clean drinking water in some First Nations communities.
Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner said he was concerned over the Ford government “ripping up contracts and undermining the rule of law.”
“No matter how many Open for Business signs the Premier puts up, he has clearly sent the wrong message to job creators,” he said in a statement.
Fedeli, however, has repeatedly said that the contract should have never been written up in the first pace and that Ontarians should have the option to purchase alcohol at corner stores and grocery stores.
“Our government is committed to delivering greater choice and convenience to individuals and families, and this expansion is just the beginning,” he said.
– With files from Travis Dhanraj and the Canadian Press
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