Photos of the Niagara on the Lake LCBO store for a column by Doug Herod. March 29 2012
Credits: BOB TYMCZYSZYN/ST. CATHARINES STANDARD/QMI AGENCY
TORONTO - Ontario Liberals have rejected the latest call for alcohol in convenience stores.
The decades-old debate over beer and wine in Ontario's corner stores bubbled to the surface again with the arrival of a 112,500-name petition calling for greater choice when buying booze.
Convenience store owner Joanne McMurchy said she began polling customers in Vanessa, Ont., a tiny hamlet south of Brantford that's a 20-minute drive from the nearest beer outlet, and the petition spread across the province.
"Everybody came to support us," McMurchy said. "They've already made a list of what kinds they would like to have at our store... we're there to serve them so that's what we would like to do."
Aly Vitunski, a spokeswoman for Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, said in an e-mail that the government believes Ontarians are well served by the existing alcohol retail system.
"The current system balances access for both customers and suppliers with social responsibility. We take the concerns of convenience store owners seriously, but we believe the current system of selling liquor is an effective way to guard the public interest," Vitunski said.
NDP MPP Rosario Marchese said the LCBO could always be improved, but it protects minors from alcohol and contributes $1.5 billion every year to pay for schools and hospitals.
"I think our priority should be making the system work better, not new schemes that make it easier for young people to get their hands on alcohol," Marchese said in a statement.
PC Leader Tim Hudak didn't reject the idea outright, and instead called for a public debate about the monopoly that the LCBO enjoys and whether a government entity needs to be involved in both purchasing and retailing of alcohol.
"Should government be in the liquor sales, liquor distribution business, the regulatory side as well?" Hudak said. "I've been a long proponent of some kind of choice in the system."
While the PC leader did not rule out beer and wine in convenience stores but said there were many options that should be considered including private franchises of the LCBO.
Dave Bryans, CEO of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OCSA), said corner stores already sell age-restricted products such as tobacco and can be trusted with beer and wine as well.
The OCSA has already released the results of a mystery shopper study that concludes convenience store owners do a better job of checking ID than LCBO stores, Bryans said.
The petition in support of corner store alcohol sales was distributed in 220 communities across Ontario, including Toronto, London, Niagara, Ottawa, Peterborough, North Bay, St. Catharines and Guelph over four weeks in late 2011.