Nearly a decade after beer and wine was first allowed in select grocery stores across Ontario, the provincial government has announced new rules that will expand the sale of those beverages, along with ready-to-drink cocktails and cider to convenience stores, gas stations, and big-box retailers.
The rules will come into effect by 2026, after the current agreement between the provincial government and alcohol retailers expires. As part of the update, competitive pricing will be allowed and restrictions on who can sell 12-, 24-, and 30-packs will be lifted. No changes were announced in regards to spirits like vodka or rum, which will still only be available at the LCBO.
In a news release, the Ontario government called the changes “the largest expansion of consumer choice and convenience since the end of prohibition almost 100 years ago.” Premier Doug Ford added that, “There’s no reason why Ontario consumers shouldn’t enjoy the same convenient shopping experience as Canadians in every other province when buying some wine for their holiday party or a case of beer or seltzers on their way to the cottage.”
In the same statement, industry professionals applauded the choice. Richard Linley, the president of Ontario Craft Wineries, said the announcement proves what his group has long been advocating, namely that “wine regions are catalysts for economic growth…through agricultural jobs, small business growth and agri-tourism.” Anne Kothawala, the president of the Convenience Industry Council of Canada, said that current restrictions are “antiquated” and removing them will help convenience stores “meet customer demands in an increasingly competitive marketplace.”
Many provinces in Canada already have such rules in place, and Ford’s government posited the changes as catching up with the rest of the country. However, some health experts have expressed concern about making alcohol more widely accessible.
Last week, a group of Ontario mental health organizations issued a statement calling for caution, pointing to data that shows increasing the availability of alcohol can spike issues such as violence, car accidents, and mental health challenges. “Policy changes like this need to be handled with great care, weighing the interests of vulnerable Ontarians who may be disproportionately harmed as a result,” said Alisha Tharani, the CEO of Addictions and Mental Health Ontario.
The Ontario government has said they are providing an additional $10 million over five years in funding to the Ministry of Health to support “social responsibility” around the safety of alcohol, but specifics have yet to come.
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